After more than 13 years at Saturn, and with its fate sealed, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft bid farewell to the Saturnian system by firing the shutters of its wide-angle camera and capturing this last, full mosaic of Saturn and its rings two days before the spacecraft’s dramatic plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. (Click for enhanced, annotated, full view) Image & Caption Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
During the final leg of NASA’s Cassini mission at Saturn, the spacecraft took a lingering last look at the planet that has been its home for more than 13 years by snapping a series of images that has been assembled into a new mosaic.
On Sept. 13, 2017, Cassini took 42 red, green, and blue images with its wide-angle camera, covering Saturn and its main rings from one end to another. The mission’s imaging scientists stitched these images together to make a natural color view. Also included in this view are the moons Prometheus, Pandora, Janus, Epimetheus, Mimas, and Enceladus.
“Cassini’s scientific bounty has been truly spectacular – a vast array of new results leading to new insights and surprises, from the tiniest of ring particles to the opening of new landscapes on Titan and Enceladus, to the deep interior of Saturn itself,” said Robert West, Cassini’s deputy imaging team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Members of the Cassini imaging team had been planning this special farewell view of Saturn for years. When the end finally came, it was a difficult goodbye for some.
“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 (APL), Laurel, Maryland. “It was hard to say goodbye, but how lucky we were to be able to see it all through Cassini’s eyes!”
This parting view of Saturn is also reminiscent of another image from long ago.
“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.”
Cassini was launched atop a Titan IVB/Centaur booster from Launch complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on October 15, 1997. After a seven-year journey, the spacecraft arrived at Saturn on June 4, 2004. Cassini completed its four-year primary mission in 2008 and went on to complete dozens more flybys of Titan, Enceladus, and Saturn’s other icy moons. The mission celebrated the 10th anniversary of Cassini’s arrival at Saturn in June 2014. During the mission’s “Grand Finale” phase, Cassini made a series of 22 dives through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400 kilometers) gap between Saturn and its rings,
The Cassini mission made a number of important scientific discoveries, including surprising geologic activity and evidence of an internal ocean on Enceladus and seas of liquid methane on Titan. The mission ended with the spacecraft plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise.
While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004.
Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.