NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Prepares for Final Chapter at Saturn

By Cresswell McCoy | Apr 06, 2017 10:43 AM EDT

NASA's Cassini spacecraft prepares for a grand finale at Saturn on April 26, 2017. The Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, and it is finally going to begin its last chapter of its remarkable journey. The probe will make the first series of dives through the 1,500 mile wide gap between Saturn and its rings.

As a part of the mission's grand finale the Cassini will conclude by diving into the planet, thus putting an end to its long and successful journey in space. During its time at Saturn the spacecraft has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including the global ocean, liquid methane seas on its moon Titan and activity within the icy moon Enceladus.

According to NASA, it has been 20 years since Cassini was launched from Earth, and after 13 years of orbiting Saturn the probe is running low on fuel. NASA has decided to end its mission by plunging into Saturn in order to protect and preserve the planet's moons for future exploration.

During the spacecraft's final orbits around the ringed planet, scientists will gain further understanding on how giant planets and planetary systems form and evolve. Cassini will make its fateful plunge into Saturn on September 15, 2017. For the next five months it will orbit through the planet and its rings racking up an impressive list of scientific achievements.

Cassini has been a huge achievement and it will make some of its most extraordinary observations at the end of its long life. NASA's Cassini mission team hopes to gain powerful insights into the planet's internal structure and the origin of the rings. On April 22, it will make its last flyby close to Saturn's giant moon Titan. The gravity of Titan will bend Cassini's flight path leaving it to pass between the planet and the inner edge of its rings. 

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