The Cassini Space Probe Enters Its "Grand Finale" Around Saturn
The Cassini space probe has been on quite the journey through our Solar System—since its launch in 1997, it has endured 20 years of exploration and discovery, peeling back the curtains of our expanding universe. However, it wasn't until 2004, 7 years into its mission, that the probe entered Saturn's orbit. And, after the recent excitement of the craft's inaugural pass through Saturn's rings on April 26th, the probe has returned. Flying again through the rings this past Wednesday with the assuredness that only experience brings, Cassini continues to deliver groundbreaking data and imagery.
Traveling in an elliptical path around Saturn, Cassini is on the verge of completing its 273rd orbit. The probe is currently in the middle of "The Grand Finale" orbits, which are named that way both because they are the probes last and also because of the magnitude of this final leg of the journey. These concluding laps around the planet will cover completely unexplored areas, allowing the probe to capture previously mysterious images and information.
Many are beginning to get a little bit sad or nostalgic about the finality of Cassini's ending journey. However, not only did the spacecraft help to advance our understanding of our solar system further than ever before, it also provided a stepping stone for future missions. Cassini continues to serve an incredible and essential purpose, but, just as the Hubble Space Telescope will eventually give way to the James Webb Space Telescope, Cassini will lead to newer probes that will advance its legacy. So, don't get weepy just yet—there's so much left to explore.