On Monday, NASA's Cassini probe celebrated ten years of Saturnian exploration – a decade of stunning images and insights about the planet and its moons. But in late 2016, Cassini will begin the dramatic final phase of its mission – a newly annointed "Grand Finale" that will culminate with an intentional dive into Saturn's atmosphere.
Above: One in a long list of awe-inspiring images of Saturn captured by Cassini.
Starting in late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft will begin a daring set of orbits that is, in some ways, like a whole new mission. The spacecraft will repeatedly climb high above Saturn's north pole, flying just outside its narrow F ring. Cassini will probe the water-rich plume of the active geysers on the planet's intriguing moon Enceladus, and then will hop the rings and dive between the planet and innermost ring 22 times.
Because the spacecraft will be in close proximity to Saturn, the team had been calling this phase "the proximal orbits," but they felt the public could help decide on a more exciting moniker. In early April, the Cassini mission invited the public to vote on a list of alternative names provided by team members or to suggest ideas of their own.
The winning alternative? "The Cassini Grand Finale." We like it.
"We chose a name for this mission phase that would reflect the exciting journey ahead while acknowledging that it's a big finish for what has been a truly great show," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
We can't wait to see what Cassini beams back in the leadup to its final dramatic dive.