NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been voyaging through the solar system since October 1997. It went into orbit around Saturn in 2004 and has since taken thousands of images of the planet, its rings, and its many diverse moons. But on 15 September, the craft will end its mission by crashing into Saturn.

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Cassini’s grand finale: 

Join us as we count down to the fiery end of the Cassini spacecraft’s mission to Saturn

 

As the Cassini mission draws to an end, New Scientist looks back at some of the most impressive images that the spacecraft has sent back to Earth.

Saturn

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

Saturn approaching its northern summer

Taken in April 2016, this set of stitched-together images reveals the beginning of the summer solstice in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Increased sunlight causes rising hazes that blur some of the planet’s swirling features and mute the bluish hues more visible in the northern winter.

 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

Saturn’s rings

Cassini marked scientists’ first opportunity to study the temperature and composition of Saturn’s rings from an orbit around the planet. The rings are only about 10 metres thick and made mostly of ice chunks ranging in size from microns to metres across. This image was taken from about 1.2 million kilometres beyond Saturn’s surface.

 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

Enceladus and its geysers

Before we sent Cassini on a path past Enceladus, scientists expected Saturn’s sixth-largest moon to be frozen solid. But these geysers spewing from its south pole indicate a buried sea that could span the whole moon. Later on, Cassini sailed through the jets and found that they contain nearly all the required ingredients for life, making Enceladus’s subsurface ocean a strong contender for potential life in our solar system.

 

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NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

 

Titan

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, also has serious potential for hosting microscopic life. Although visible light cannot peer through this moon’s thick, hazy atmosphere, infrared observations like the one seen here reveal its liquid methane seas. Titan is freezing cold and has no liquid water, but Cassini has seen some promising signs for the possibility of life there.

 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

Saturn’s polar hexagon

Saturn’s north pole hosts an Raumfahrt - Cassini Grand Finale Around Saturn -Update-5 

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