Published Apr 16, 2017 at 5:53 PM | Updated at 6:51 AM PST on Nov 28, 2017
Launched in 1997, the Cassini's mission to Saturn is now over. The spacecraft spiraled out of control and vaporized in the sky above Saturn Friday.
The JPL-managed spacecraft entered the final phase of its mission in August 2017 when it began a series of "ultra-close'' passes through Saturn's upper atmosphere, which will be followed by a final plunge into the planet.
Before Cassini, we only had relatively brief flybys that offered glimpses at Saturn and its complicated rings. Cassini began its up-close study of Saturn, its rings and moons in 2004 and was the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. Nearly 300 orbits later, it has allowed scientists to study Saturn like never before. Of note, Saturn's moons, including Titan, gave them a better idea of what Earth might have been like before life evolved.
It is the only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn and, dutiful to the end, Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" Thursday Sept. 15, 2017 and sampled Saturn's atmosphere as it made its final plunge. Project scientist Linda Spilker noted Cassini has been running "a marathon of scientific discovery" for 13 years at Saturn.
In late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft began its new mission's orbits, which were coined the Grand Finale. It then moved on to orbit around Saturn's moon Titan and Saturn's innermost ring. The spacecraft was designed to measure the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields, determine its ring mass, sample the atmosphere and ionosphere around it, and capture the last views of Enceladus, another one of Saturn's moons.
During the last two decades, Cassini has traveled 4.9 billion miles and collected more than 450,000 images. Here's a glimpse at some of the spectacular sights from this mission.