To document the dramatic final days of the Cassini spacecraft's mission at Saturn, the next season of the PBS show "NOVA" will premiere with a 1-hour program called "Death Dive to Saturn" tonight (Sept. 13) at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT).
The WGBH Boston production team behind the Cassini special will be on-site this week at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to capture "the tense and triumphant moments as [the Cassini team] find out if their gambit has paid off," as NOVA/WGBH shared in a press release. Producers will be at JPL until Cassini takes its fatal plunge and disintegrates into Saturn's toffee-colored atmosphere Friday (Sept. 15).
This week's footage will be used to update "Death Dive to Saturn" later on, NOVA representatives said in a statement, but on Sept. 15, NOVA will share the moments in real time on the series' social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter.
The Cassini spacecraft launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004, and it spent 13 years studying the mysterious planet from up close.
The trailer for "Death Dive to Saturn" reveals how the Cassini mission has made the solar system a smaller place by collecting a plethora of data about a planet floating a billion miles away. The program will touch on Cassini's extraordinarily detailed images of Saturn's rings, and what scientists have learned about Saturn's more than 60 moons during the probe's three missions in the system.
A highlight will be the "NOVA" segment on the moon Enceladus, whose icy crust hosts geysers that revealed an underground ocean. The discoveries of Earth-like features on Enceladus and Saturn's largest moon, Titan, further emphasize the need to disintegrate Cassini before it runs the risk of colliding with and contaminating a Saturnian moon when the spacecraft runs out of fuel.
For further details on "NOVA: Death Dive to Saturn," visit pbs.org/nova.
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Doris is a science journalist and Space.com contributor. She received a B.A. in Sociology and Communications at Fordham University in New York City. Her first work was published in collaboration with London Mining Network, where her love of science writing was born. Her passion for astronomy started as a kid when she helped her sister build a model solar system in the Bronx. She got her first shot at astronomy writing as a Space.com editorial intern and continues to write about all things cosmic for the website. Doris has also written about microscopic plant life for Scientific American’s website and about whale calls for their print magazine. She has also written about ancient humans for Inverse, with stories ranging from how to recreate Pompeii’s cuisine to how to map the Polynesian expansion through genomics. She currently shares her home with two rabbits. Follow her on twitter at @salazar_elin.