Image Cache: Alas, all good things must come to an end. Today, NASA will announce the details regarding its Cassini spacecraft’s Grand Finale — a resplendent ending to its 20-year-long adventure in space, which will begin later this month. From late April to September 15, Cassini will perform 22 dramatic dives between Saturn and its rings. Then, the brave little orbiter will plunge itself into Saturn’s atmosphere and burn up like a meteor — all while sending information back to Earth.
Photo of Saturn by Cassini, taken on 18 December 2012. (Image: NASA)
The orbiter, which launched on 15 October 1997, reached the Saturn system in 2004. Since then, it’s beamed back countless gigabytes of data and breathtaking photos, enabling the publication of more than 3000 scientific reports, according to NASA. It’s had a good run, but now, it must die — Cassini is running out of fuel, and scientists fear that if it crashes into one of Saturn’s 62 moons, the orbiter could contaminate them.
To be fair, going out in a blaze of glory (literally) is the most dignified way to go. Before she leaves us forever, let’s take a look back at some of Cassini’s greatest hits:
View of Saturn’s moon, Titan. (4 December 2015)
Saturn and its moon, Tethys. Tethys isn’t that small — Saturn’s just huge. (26 November 2012)
Spinning vortex on Saturn’s north pole, AKA “The Rose”. (29 April 2013)
Saturn and its large son (read: moon), Titan. (29 August 2012)
Saturn and five of its moons. (12 September 2011)
Saturn’s tiny moon, Pan, AKA the “dumpling moon“. (7 March 2017)
View from within Saturn’s shadow. (3 February 2016)
Enceladus’ north pole. (15 October 2015)
Saturn’s moon, Helene. She’s small. (17 September 2010)
Saturn’s /”Death Star” Moon, Mimas. (22 October 2016)
Of course, some rings. (23 May 2005)
RIP Cassini (1997-2017).