In case you missed it, NASA this week released an amazing crop of close-up photos of Saturn’s icy rings. The photos come courtesy of the Cassini mission, which was launched in 1997 as a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. Cassini reached Saturn in 2004, and has been sending back a rich stream of photos and data about the beringed planet ever since.
In addition to sending back these highly detailed images of Saturn’s rings, Cassini has made several remarkable discoveries about Saturn’s moons, including the presence of a global ocean on Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.
Cassini’s final series of passes around Saturn will begin in April 2017, when Cassini will shift its orbit from one that grazes the outer edge of Saturn’s rings to one that dives between those rings and the planet’s surface. When its mission is complete, Cassini will sink into Saturn’s atmosphere and shut down.