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?"
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Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.