NASA’s Cassini spacecraft completed its final close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus on Dec. 19.
The spacecraft passed by the moon at a distance of 3,106 miles and captured amazing photos of Enceladus’ rugged surface on its way.
The small moon has intrigued researchers for years. In 2005, researchers recognized signs of geologic activity on the icy moon, and Cassini soon revealed the presence of warm fluids gushing near Enceladus’ south pole, according to NASA. In 2015, data confirmed that Enceladus hosts a global ocean beneath its crust, according to NASA.
Gallery: Big moments in space exploration
While the mission marked the last close flyby of the moon, it is in no way the end of research on Enceladus, Linda Spilker, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement.
“Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about Enceladus, yet so much more remains to be done to answer that pivotal question, ‘Does this tiny ocean world harbor life?'” Spilker said.
The flyby marked the 22nd time the spacecraft has encountered Enceladus during the mission, according to NASA.
Cassini will continue to monitor Enceladus, but from afar. According to NASA, Enceladus is one of the top candidates for future exploration in the quest for signs of life beyond Earth.
The Cassini mission will continue through Sept. 2017.
Follow @MaryBowerman on Twitter.
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1YB2lwP