We all know that Cassini is going to crash into Saturn later this month to avoid contaminating one it's moons,

why isn't anyone worried that Cassini will contaminate Saturn itself?

Surely this is just short sighted regards life existing in Saturn's atmosphere?

I know it wouldn't be anything we can recognize as earth-like but I don't rule out life existing in Saturn's atmosphere.

At different altitudes, pressures & temperatures there are different environments that I can see life evolving. I think its just closed minded to rule it out.

If we REALLY wanted to not contaminate anything we should sling it out of the plane of the solar system entirely.

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    $\begingroup$ Because it will burn up, thereby destroying anything that could potentially contaminate Saturn. $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Sep 5 '17 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ The entry of Cassini into the gas giant Saturn will be so hot that any biological contamination with microbes will be destroyed. Cassini has no heat shield. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Sep 5 '17 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ Its not that easy to "sling" anything outside of the Solar System, specially because they're terminating the mission due to lack of rocket fuel. If the choice is between Saturn and its moons logic dictates that Saturn should be the resting place. Not only the entry into Saturn will cook Cassini but gas planets are not typically seen as suitable to life. $\endgroup$ – armatita Sep 5 '17 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Uwe, yes, but responders are reading "contamination" in the question as "biological contamination". A few kg of plutonium introduced to Saturn is not considered to be a problem for future studies of the planet, or to life that might already exist in the atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – BowlOfRed Sep 6 '17 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ Cassini is going to hit 3x as fast as spacecraft returning from Earth's orbit--energy goes at the square of velocity. Cassini has no heat shield. Any hypothetical inhabitants of Saturn will see some fireworks, that's it. The entry fires will burn it to dust. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Sep 7 '17 at 1:18

If we were going to send a probe into Saturn's atmosphere and were concerned about contamination of a potential ecosphere there, we would sterilize the probe first, e.g. with dry heat microbial reduction, to make sure that nothing viable was on the probe.

Cassini has no protection from the entry heat like a probe would, and will be entering at an incredible velocity, so every tiny bit of Cassini will be massively sterilized in the fiery entry, far beyond puny humans ability to do so.

  • $\begingroup$ Human ability to sterilize Cassini was limited, Cassini should not be destroyed or damaged by sterilisation. Much higher temperatures were possible but not allowed. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Sep 8 '17 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ A solid 20 years in deep space should take care most of what we could have missed as well. $\endgroup$ – kert Sep 17 '17 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ @kert: don't be so sure. Endospores are exceptionally durable and were found surviving in vacuum of space for a long time. Nothing survives a couple of gigawatts worth of heating though. $\endgroup$ – SF. Sep 18 '17 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ One point twenty one jigawatts! $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Sep 18 '17 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ @SF. and if it does survive, it has earned its right to live $\endgroup$ – frarugi87 Sep 19 '17 at 13:41

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