NASA’s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery, brutal end, when it will plunge into Saturn

After 13 years of observing Saturn, its rings and its myriad moons, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery, brutal end.

Early in the morning on Sept. 15 the aging spacecraft will hurl itself into Saturn’s atmosphere at speeds of more than 75,000 mph.

It’s a deliberate death plunge from which it has no hope of returning.

Within three minutes of diving into Saturn’s tenuous upper layers, the two-story-tall spacecraft will be torn apart.

Then it will melt.

Then it will vaporize.

In the end, Cassini will become part of the very planet it has studied for more than a decade.

“I like to say it’s going out in a blaze of glory,” said Linda Spilker of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the project scientist for the mission. “It will be trailblazing until the very last second.”

Earth-bound astronomers will keep a close eye on the planet at the moment of Cassini’s death to see whether they can detect a small flare as the spacecraft burns up like a meteor in the Saturnian sky.

But they don’t expect to see much.

“The mass of Cassini is so small compared to the mass of the planet,” Spilker said. “And the plunge is happening on Saturn’s day side.”

She added that there is no fear that Cassini’s death dive will contaminate the ringed giant. Molecules from the spacecraft will quickly spread out across the planet, which is big enough to hold more than 700 Earths.

Still, Cassini’s suicide mission is not all gloom and doom. The spacecraft will venture deeper into Saturn’s atmosphere than ever before, collecting brand new data and beaming it back to Earth up until the last seconds of its life.

“We are reconfiguring the spacecraft and turning Cassini into an atmospheric probe,” said Earl Maize, the mission’s program manager, who also works at JPL.

Cassini could make it as far as 120 miles into the Saturnian atmosphere before all its instruments cease to function, mission engineers said.

“I find great comfort that Cassini will continue teaching us until the very last second on Sept. 15,” said Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist based at NASA’s headquarters in Washington.

The flagship mission launched in 1997 and entered the Saturnian system in 2004.

Over the last 13 years it has discovered plumes of water ice on the moon Enceladus, confirmed the presence of methane and ethane lakes and rivers on Titan, watched the seasons change on Saturn, discovered six new moons and revealed complexities in the planet’s rings that had never been seen before.

“We’ve rewritten the textbooks on Saturn,” Spilker said. “Literally, there are so many new books coming out.”

Although the spacecraft’s instruments continue to work flawlessly, its gas tank is nearing empty. Mission planners decided to crash Cassini into Saturn to avoid any risk of contaminating Enceladus or Titan, two of Saturn’s moons that could harbor the ingredients necessary for life.

Beginning in April, Cassini began a series of orbits that took it speeding through the gap between the planet and its rings for the first time. This has allowed scientists to address new questions including the age of the rings and how quickly the planet’s interior is spinning.

By Sept. 15, the spacecraft will have completed 22 of these orbits to collect new data even as its end looms.

“Who knows what new mysteries the next two weeks will bring?” Spilker said.

deborah.netburn@latimes.com

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Once-bullish analyst calls for 42 percent plunge in the market’s hottest stock

The past few days have been a roller-coaster ride for Nvidia shareholders. Of course, they have little to complain about, given that the past year has been like a trip to the amusement park.

On Friday morning, shares of the semiconductor company rose to a record high of $168.50. At that point, the stock had climbed by some 250 percent over the past year. The move came after Citi research analyst Atif Malik boosted his price target to $180 from $145 (additionally outlining a “bull case” whereby the stock could rise to $300) and UBS analyst Stephen Chin upped his target to $168 from $148.

After hitting record levels in the first half hour of trade, the stock began to slide, attended by a short and somewhat disjointed report from short seller Andrew Left’s firm Citron Research, which contended that Nvidia is an overvalued “casino” stock that would soon fall back to $130.

As high-flying tech names in general slid meaningfully, Nvidia dropped as low as $142.75 on Friday afternoon (a 17 percent intraday decline) before closing a bit off of the lows.

On Monday, the stock opened lower still, before beating a rebound to finish the day with a mild gain. And on Tuesday, the stock was vacillating around breakeven.

Wall Street research analysts appear to be sharply divided on the stock. Just about half of them have bullish ratings on Nvidia, while 13 percent have bearish ratings; the rest have it at hold.

One of the more bearish analysts is Romit Shah of Nomura Instinet, who has a reduce rating and a price target of $90.

Shah hasn’t always been so skeptical about the stock; he called it a buy in November, and cut his rating to reduce in February, at which point he dropped his price target to $90 from $100.

At the time, that implied a 19 percent drop; as on Tuesday’s opening price, a fall to $90 would represent a 42 percent decline.

“The valuation is pretty astronomical,” Shah said in a Monday interview on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”

“It’s a semiconductor which is being valued as a software company, which it’s not,” Shah said. “The best businesses in the space trade at six times revenue, and Nvidia is trading at around 12 times, and fueling that is a lot of hype and hope around artificial intelligence.”

Apple shares plunge 7% in two days on downgrade, valuation concerns

Apple shares fell as much as 4 percent Monday morning, on track for a second straight day of losses due to mounting concerns about unsustainably high stock prices. The iPhone maker has now lost 7 percent of its value in just two days.

The decline Monday came after Mizuho downgraded the stock to neutral from buy and lowered its price target to $150 from $160.

“We believe enthusiasm around the upcoming product cycle is fully captured at current levels, with limited upside from here on out,” Mizuho managing director, Americas research, Abhey Lamba, said in a Sunday note.

Apple’s stock fell 3.9 percent Friday as major tech stocks suddenly plunged. It was down 2.9 percent to $144.65 as of 10:40 am ET Monday. The stock closed at $154.99 on Thursday before the big selling began.

Apple shares three-month performance

Lamba said investors already expect strong iPhone 8 sales in the coming product cycle, likely limiting gains in Apple shares. And the same consumers driving those solid sales this time around will likely not spend on a new iPhone soon, reducing potential growth in fiscal 2018, the report said.

Customers may also want to wait for the iPhone to adopt new OLED display technology at a lower cost, the note said.

“In our view, Apple’s pricing is likely to become the main hurdle to meaningful expansion of its installed base,” Lamba said.

He also expects that growth in China “is likely to remain weak” in the near term, while the Indian market remains constrained due to limited affordability. The consensus estimate of 30 percent growth in services revenue per user over the next two years also “seems high,” Lamba said.

“We remain of the view that Apple maintains a very strong franchise and could continue to gain incremental share of the smartphone market; however, the pace of share gains will likely meaningfully moderate as the market becomes more saturated,” the report said.

Lamba does not assume any repatriation of Apple’s more than $170 billion overseas cash holdings, which he expects will be taxed.

In May, Aswath Damodaran, a professor of corporate finance and valuation at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said Apple’s stock is fully valued around $140 a share, while $94 is a good place to buy.

Some on Wall Street also believe Apple’s recent downward volatility is a negative signal for the market.

“I’m not sure what the right value is for Apple, but it is extremely concerning to me, that a stock of this importance can trade like that – on virtually nothing!” Brean Capital’s Peter Tchir wrote in a note to clients Monday.

After Friday’s price action, I can’t be anything but bearish near term. The ‘healthy’ rotation seems to hide the fact that for brief moments of time there was virtually no liquidity (at a price) for some of the biggest and most loved stocks,” Tchir added.

— CNBC’s Tae Kim contributed to this story.

Fossil shares plunge as Apple Observe kills traditional enjoy industry

Fossil Group’s latest financials demonstrate the watchmaker is obviously hurting from Apple’s encroachment into the traditional hardware sector.

Shares of Fossil were being buying and selling down more than 24 % Wednesday early morning, adhering to the firm’s dismal very first-quarter earnings report.

“Our results for the very first quarter … keep on to replicate a challenging retail setting and a enjoy group going through considerable change,” Fossil CEO Kosta Kartsotis mentioned on the earnings convention get in touch with.

“The tactics we are pursuing in the midst of these headwinds permit us to much better compete in the setting and capitalize on the escalating relevance of technology to the enjoy group. … technology can be the catalyst needed to travel development in the enjoy group.”

Immediately after the bell on Tuesday, Fossil described a greater-than-expected earnings reduction and reduce-than-expected revenue.

The watchmaker described a reduction of sixty five cents per share on gross sales of $581.8 million, even though Wall Road experienced forecast losses of 34 cents a share on revenue of $591 million, in accordance to Thomson Reuters’ analysts.

Throughout the very first quarter, Fossil’s gross margin reduced 300 foundation factors to forty nine.8 %, driven reduce because of increased promotional activity in outlets, the retailer mentioned.

Meanwhile, Apple Observe gross sales are getting momentum, as Tim Cook’s organization continues to disrupt the traditional hardware area. In its latest earnings report, Apple mentioned its gross sales from “other solutions” — Apple Observe, Apple Tv and Beats solutions — grew 31 % yr-around-yr.

Apple mentioned it will be marketing new enjoy bands in the spring with hues like berry, pollen, sapphire, azure, orange and pink, presenting more level of competition for traditional watches made by Fossil.

With Wednesday’s losses, shares of Fossil have tumbled more than sixty five % around the earlier 12 months and are down about forty six % for the yr-to-date period.

Apple may ditch Dialog chip, analyst says; chipmaker’s shares plunge | Reuters

FRANKFURT Dialog Semiconductor risks losing a crucial supply deal with Apple Inc, according to a financial analyst who cut his rating on the stock on Tuesday, sending the Anglo-German chipmaker’s shares down by as much as one-third.

Bankhaus Lampe cut its rating on Dialog to “sell” from “hold” as it argued in a research note that Apple was working on its own battery-saving chip for the iPhone that could replace Dialog’s power management integrated circuits (PMIC) as early as 2019.

Apple accounted for more than 70 percent of Dialog’s 2016 sales, the broker estimated.

Shares in Dialog fell as much as 36 percent to a seven-month low. By 0831 GMT they were trading down 23.7 percent at 36.39 euros.

Bankhaus Lampe cited unnamed industry sources as saying that Apple is setting up power management design centers both in Munich and California and added that Apple already has around 80 engineers working on a power management chip of its own.

“In our view, there is strong evidence that Apple is developing its own PMIC and intends to replace the chip made by Dialog at least in part,” Bankhaus Lampe analyst Karsten Iltgen advised investors.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed that Apple was recruiting top Dialog engineers in Munich. “They are poaching like crazy,” the person said.

A Dialog spokesman declined to comment. He added that the company is not planning to release any official statement.

The downgrade comes after Imagination Technologies was advised by Apple that it planned to replace Imagination’s graphics chip designs in upcoming products, sending shudders through Apple’s global component supply chain.

Imagination shares plunged 70 percent on the news last week.

Iltgen is a four-star rated analyst for the accuracy of his earnings estimates on Dialog and ranks sixth among 16 analysts covering the stock, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Dialog has made several failed attempts to diversify beyond Apple and other smartphone customers in recent years.

In 2014, merger talks between Dialog and Austrian sensor chip maker Ams AG fell apart after they failed to come to terms. Its plans to buy U.S.-based Atmel in 2015 were derailed after Microchip swooped in with a higher bid.

(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde and Eric Auchard; editing by Jason Neely)