CALIFORNIA NASA's aging Galileo spacecraft plunged into Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere Sunday, bringing a deliberately fiery conclusion to a 14-year, $1.5 billion exploration of the solar system's largest planet and its moons.
The unmanned spacecraft, traveling at nearly 108,000 mph, was torn apart and vaporized by the heat and friction of its fall through the clouds after it dove into the atmosphere at 1:57 p.m. CDT as planned.
The last of Galileo's science measurements arrived on Earth after the spacecraft was destroyed Sunday, taking 52 minutes to cross half a billion miles of space at the speed of light.
During its thrice-extended mission since 1989, 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.
NASA opted to crash the 3,000-pound Galileo to eliminate the possibility it could smack into the watery moon Europa and contaminate it with any microbes aboard.