— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) April 26, 2017
Today, Google is honoring NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn with an adorable Google Doodle featuring the spacecraft swooping between the planet and its rings.
Cassini kicked off its “Grand Finale” at Saturn this morning (April 26) with the first of 22 planned ring dives that the spacecraft will execute before fatally crashing into Saturn on Sept. 15.
The animated Google Doodle shows a cute Cassini cartoon snapping photos of a smiling Saturn while diving through the planet’s iconic rings. NASA expects to receive the first close-up shots from today’s flyby tomorrow (April 27), but the best images are yet to come. [Cassini’s ‘Grand Finale’ at Saturn: NASA’s Plan in Pictures ]
As Cassini’s orbit gradually nears Saturn over the next few months, these close-ups will keep getting closer. The spacecraft will continue to beam back unprecedented views of Saturn even as it plunges into the planet’s atmosphere before ending its mission in a fatal crash. (The death dive was designed to ensure that Earth microbes on Cassini do not contaminate Saturn moons Enceladus and Titan, which have the potential to host life .)
“By plunging into this fascinating frontier, Cassini will help scientists learn more about the origins, mass, and age of Saturn’s rings, as well as the mysteries of the gas giant’s interior,” Google wrote in a statement . “Who knows what marvels this hardy explorer will uncover in the final chapter of its mission?”