As it soars through the solar system, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent back one last Christmas present to wrap up 2015 — some positively stunning shots of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
The images come from the craft’s final close flyby of Saturn's active moon Enceladus. Cassini passed Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles on Saturday, Dec. 19. Cassini has been monitoring the moon for quite some time, and has made several discoveries about the mysterious moon. NASA actually tweaked its mission once the craft reached Saturn, as they realized Cassini might be the most interesting piece of the puzzle.
"We bid a poignant goodbye to our close views of this amazing icy world," Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, 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?'"
As Spilker notes, it all comes back to the big question — is there life on Enceladus? Cassini discovered the moon likely has a near-global ocean underneath its icy crust. Could there be alien fish, or at least bacteria, swimming around in there? Well, we still don’t know. But Cassini has helped NASA realize which questions they need to be asking next, which is almost as important as figuring out the answers.
Check out the final flyby shots below, and enjoy the space porn: