Cassini’s Grand Finale »

Since 2004, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been at Saturn, studying the gas giant and its many moons. That work is coming to an end this month:

On Wednesday, April 26, the spacecraft will make the first in a series of dives through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) gap between Saturn and its rings as part of the mission’s grand finale.

“No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end.”

After these daring maneuvers, Cassini will meet its end:

In 2010, NASA decided to end the mission with a purposeful plunge into Saturn this year in order to protect and preserve the planet’s moons for future exploration — especially the potentially habitable Enceladus.

A fitting end to one heck of a mission.