Last week, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft went where nothing made by humans had ever gone before – it successfully navigated a path between Saturn and its rings and survived. Cassini also beamed back pictures and other essential data as it maneuvered the 1,500-mile-wide space between the solar system’s second largest planet and its icy rings.

The images, which take 78 minutes to make the billion-mile trip back to Earth, reveal a blazing, mysterious process of alternating light and darkness in the rings that scientists will be working to understand for years. That seems only fair because it has already taken 20 years for Cassini to be in a position to do what it is doing so far.

Between now and September, Cassini will make 22 dives between Saturn’s rings and the planet, clocking at an impressive 76,800 mph each time. The end result should be a treasure trove of stunning images of the planet, its diverse and mysterious rings, along with detailed maps of the gas giant’s gravity, magnetic fields and atmospheric conditions.

On Sept. 15, it will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, streaming data back to Earth as it makes its descent of no return. It will be a bittersweet moment for the scientists at NASA, the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, which collaborated on the mission.

Still, Cassini will have unveiled many more of Saturn’s secrets before its final moments. Other probes have delivered images of Saturn and its moons in the past, but none has given humanity as intimate a look at the second most beautiful planet in our solar system, its moons and its rings as Cassini has. We’ve been deeply enriched as a species by Cassini’s two-decade-long mission. It has deepened our understanding of planetary formation and will pay dividends undreamed of for decades.