The Cassini spacecraft has made its final flyby of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus as it nears the end of its mission. The spacecraft took a number of closeup photos of the moon as it passed within 3,106 miles.
While this is the final flyby by Cassini, Enceladus will still be within sight of the spacecraft until the end of its mission, though at a much greater distance.
“This final Enceladus flyby elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph,” said Earl Maize, project manager of the Cassini mission.
Cassini began its orbit around Saturn in 2004 and has made several flybys of Enceladus since then, including its daring pass through one of the moons many icy plumes last October.
Cassini was also used to find evidence of the global saltwater ocean under the icy shell of Enceladus, making it one of the best candidates for life beyond Earth.
“Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about Enceladus, yet so much more remains to be done to answer that pivotal question, ‘Does this tiny ocean world harbor life?'” Said Linda Spikler, Cassini project scientist.
Cassini is now headed to another of Saturn’s moons, Titan, which contains surface hydrocarbon lakes.
The Cassini mission will conclude in September 2017 as it will orbit Saturn several times before plunging into the atmosphere of the gas giant planet in what had been dubbed the “Cassini Grand Finale.”