The Cassini spacecraft ended the last leg of its journey by showing scientists on Earth a final look at Saturn and its rings. The spacecraft took a series of images which were assembled into a mosaic by NASA imaging scientists.
Using its wide-angle camera, it took 42 red, green and blue images of the gas giant and its main rings from one end to the other on September 13, 2017. The imaging team – comprising scientists from United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany – pieced together these frames to create a natural color view. The scene also includes Saturn’s moons Prometheus, Pandora, Janus, Epimetheus, Mimas and Enceladus.
The Cassini spacecraft was launched in 1997 and orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. It was a flagship-class unmanned robotic spacecraft that comprised of both NASA’s Cassini probe and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Huygens lander. During its 13-year mission, it was able to make a myriad of discoveries, including the surprising geologic activity on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
The spacecraft ended its mission on September 15, 2017 by taking a dramatic plunge into Saturn’s upper atmosphere where it burned up. However, it kept providing data until it lost contact with Earth. This data will continue to be analyzed by scientists for many years.
The exploration of Saturn and its environs by Cassini was “deep, comprehensive and historic, ” said a statement by NASA.
“It was all too easy to get used to receiving new images from the Saturn system on a daily basis, seeing new sights, watching things change,” said Elizabeth Turtle, an imaging team associate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland.
To celebrate the end of Cassini’s mission, the imaging team had been planning this special farewell view of Saturn for years.
“For 37 years, Voyager 1’s last view of Saturn has been, for me, one of the most evocative images ever taken in the exploration of the solar system,” said Carolyn Porco, former Voyager imaging team member and Cassini’s imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “In a similar vein, this ‘Farewell to Saturn’ will forevermore serve as a reminder of the dramatic conclusion to that wondrous time humankind spent in intimate study of our Sun’s most iconic planetary system.”
The Cassini-Huygens mission, commonly referred to as Cassini, is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency.