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 15th, 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.
The orbiter, which launched on October 15th, 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 3,000 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:
Saturn and its moon, Tethys. Tethys isn’t that small—Saturn’s just huge. (November 26, 2012)
Saturn and its large son (read: moon), Titan. (August 29th, 2012)
Saturn’s tiny moon, Pan, AKA the “dumpling moon.” (March 7th, 2017)
Saturn’s “Death Star” Moon, Mimas. (October 22nd, 2016)
RIP Cassini (1997-2017)