The Cassini spacecraft will take a plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday after spending 20 years flying through the solar system and commit one final act: self-destruction.
The NASA spacecraft left Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1997 and has traveled about 4.9 billion miles (7.8 billion km) since then, . Since Cassini arrived at Saturn, it has circled the ringed planet nearly 300 times, taking photographs for scientists back on Earth to learn from.
In its finale, the probe will burn up once it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere. This ensures that microbes from Earth cannot infect Saturn’s potentially inhabitable moon, Enceladus.
It will take 83 minutes after the probe’s destruction for the signals to stop arriving on Earth, at about 7:55 a.m. ET.
Here are eight images Cassini took along its journey: