Low on rocket fuel, and after almost 20 years in space, the Cassini spacecraft will end its mission on September 15.
Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived in Saturn's system in 2004 and has been studying the planet, its rings and moons ever since. It is the most distant planetary orbiter ever launched. Its many discoveries have transformed our understanding of Saturn and the kind of worlds where life might exist. Just a few of its major accomplishments:
- Performed 127 close flybys of Titan, Saturn's largest moon and one of the most earth-like worlds we've found
- Delivered ESA's probe to Titan in 2005, supporting the first landing on a world in the outer solar system
- Revealed that Saturn's moons are unique worlds — including tiny Enceladus, with its towering jets of ice and water vapor from the ocean under its icy crust, and Mimas, with a giant impact crater making it look like the Death Star from "Star Wars"
- Enabled observation of weather and seasonal changes during its 13 years (about half a Saturn year), including a once-in-30-years storm
Tomorrow, the Cassini will descend into Saturn and be crushed by its atmosphere. When antennas on Earth stop detecting the spacecraft's signal, the Cassini mission will officially end. Before watching its Grande Finale, learn more about the Cassini's amazing mission.
Image courtesy of NASA.