Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, c 2000.
This picture shows a 1:25 scale model of the Cassini spacecraft. Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images

The Cassini Spacecraft Has Entered Its Final Collision Course with Saturn

Sep 12, 2017

The Cassini spacecraft is now locked on a final approach that will see it end a 13-year mission by crashing into Saturn.

On Monday the probe made its closest encounter with Titan, the gas-giant's largest moon, which Cassini has been exploring since 2004. Informally called "the goodbye kiss" by engineers, the spacecraft flew within 120,000 km of Titan — a distance close enough to change Cassini's trajectory so the probe would hurtle toward Saturn, the BBC reports.

The spacecraft's mission will end Friday when it enters the planet's atmosphere and disintegrates. In its final hours, Cassini will relay as much data as it can back to Earth before it dies. NASA hopes the data collected from the final descent will allow scientists to understand more about the planet's atmosphere and interior.

Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission — a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — has sent back thousands of stunning images and made numerous discoveries about the ringed planet and its moons.

In its final weeks, the probe flew through the gap between Saturn and its rings, yielding the most detailed look yet at the planet's north pole.

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