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Galileo takes last breath

NASA’s Galileo space probe, which revolutionized scientists’ understanding of Jupiter and its moons, made its last transmissions Sunday and then disintegrated spectacularly in Jupiter’s atmosphere. National Aeronautics and Space Administration technicians in charge of Jupiter’s final mission lost contact with Galileo shortly after 1940 hours GMT Sunday. With this the NASA’s aging spacecraft concluded its 14-year, exploration of Jupiter and its moons

The spacecraft passed into the shadow of the solar system’s largest planet and several minutes later entered its atmosphere. The unmanned spacecraft, traveling at nearly 173,770 kph, was torn apart and vaporised by the heat and friction of its fall through the clouds. Probe was lost almost a hour before this, as it took some 52 minutes for Galileo’s transmissions to reach earth. NASA technicians put Galileo on a crash course with Jupiter rather than risk the craft hitting one of Jupiter’s moons, where Galileo had discovered underground oceans. Galileo’s mission was drawn to a close as the craft had run low on fuel.

The 1.35-tonne probe entered Jupiter’s hostile atmosphere just south of the planet’s equator at a speed of 48.2 kilometers (30 miles) per second. NASA technicians feared Galileo could contaminate that ocean with microbes carried from Earth if it had collided with Europa, and thus affect a potential source of life and future scientific discovery.very.

Launched in October 1989, Galileo arrived at Jupiter in December 1995. During its thrice-extended mission, Galileo discovered the first moon of an asteroid, witnessed the impact of a comet into Jupiter and provided firm evidence of salty oceans on three of the planet’s moons. It took about 14,000 pictures during its lifetime. It was the first spacecraft to pass near an asteroid, and the first to discover a moon of an asteroid. It was also the first spacecraft to directly measure with a probe the atmosphere of Jupiter, the largest planet in the Earth’s solar system, and was the first to carry out long-term observations from orbit. Galileo, which had circled Jupiter 34 times, discovered that Europa — one of Jupiter’s four moons — likely has an underground ocean.