Space

Cassini says goodbye with images from dying moments

Cassini says goodbye with imag...
This snap of Saturn's rings was taken on September 13, two days before Cassini burnt up in the planet's atmosphere
This snap of Saturn's rings was taken on September 13, two days before Cassini burnt up in the planet's atmosphere
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Saturn's A ring as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on September 13, two days before it burned up in the planet's atmosphere 
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Saturn's A ring as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on September 13, two days before it burned up in the planet's atmosphere 
Saturn's outer ring, which features the small moon Daphnis, as seen by Cassini on September 13 – the spacecraft burned up in Saturn's atmosphere two days later
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Saturn's outer ring, which features the small moon Daphnis, as seen by Cassini on September 13 – the spacecraft burned up in Saturn's atmosphere two days later
This snap of Saturn's rings was taken on September 13, two days before Cassini burnt up in the planet's atmosphere
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This snap of Saturn's rings was taken on September 13, two days before Cassini burnt up in the planet's atmosphere
Saturn's northern hemisphere, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on September 13
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Saturn's northern hemisphere, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on September 13
This blurry image of Saturn's giant moon, Titan, was captured as Cassini peered around the Saturn system one final time on September 13, 2017
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This blurry image of Saturn's giant moon, Titan, was captured as Cassini peered around the Saturn system one final time on September 13, 2017
This monochrome image was actually the last taken by Cassini, showing the region of Saturn's atmosphere that the spacecraft would enter hours later
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This monochrome image was actually the last taken by Cassini, showing the region of Saturn's atmosphere that the spacecraft would enter hours later
One of the final images of Saturn and its main rings captured by Cassini from a distance
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One of the final images of Saturn and its main rings captured by Cassini from a distance
An image from the last set of observations Cassini made of Saturn's moon Iapetus, which perplexed scientists for decades with its ying-yang-like appearance (bright on one side and dark on the other)
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An image from the last set of observations Cassini made of Saturn's moon Iapetus, which perplexed scientists for decades with its ying-yang-like appearance (bright on one side and dark on the other)
A top-down view of clouds circling over Saturn 's north pole on April 26, the day the Cassini spacecraft began its Grand Finale
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A top-down view of clouds circling over Saturn 's north pole on April 26, the day the Cassini spacecraft began its Grand Finale
A montage of images taken by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer shows the location where the spacecraft entered Saturn's atmosphere on September 15
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A montage of images taken by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer shows the location where the spacecraft entered Saturn's atmosphere on September 15
Saturn's ocean-bearing moon Enceladus disappears beyond the horizon on September 13, one of the final images captured by Cassini
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Saturn's ocean-bearing moon Enceladus disappears beyond the horizon on September 13, one of the final images captured by Cassini
An unprocessed image of Titan taken by Cassini spacecraft during its final, distant flyby on Sept. 11
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An unprocessed image of Titan taken by Cassini spacecraft during its final, distant flyby on Sept. 11
NASA's Cassini spacecraft captures cloudy multi-hued bands in the northern hemisphere of Saturn on August 31, from a distance of around 700,000 miles (1.1 million km)
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NASA's Cassini spacecraft captures cloudy multi-hued bands in the northern hemisphere of Saturn on August 31, from a distance of around 700,000 miles (1.1 million km)

Cassini might have been reduced to nothing when it burned up in Saturn's atmosphere last Friday, but the spacecraft has left a legacy of readings and observations that will be pored over for years. A set of images shared by NASA offer a taste of what's to come in terms of scientific discovery, along with a little window into the moments leading up to the unmanned probe's spectacular demise.

Cassini circled Saturn for 13 years before plunging into its thick atmosphere on September 15, bringing to an end a mission spanning 20 years that brought the planet into sharper focus than ever before. Along with a stream of breathtaking images providing a closeup look at the gas giant and its stunning rings, the instruments aboard Cassini revealed countless new insights and identified some of its most interesting features.

One of the final images of Saturn and its main rings captured by Cassini from a distance
One of the final images of Saturn and its main rings captured by Cassini from a distance

One of these came during the Cassini mission's final phase, the so-called Grand Finale where it made a total of 22 daring dives through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-km) gap between the planet and its rings. It was through these lunges that Cassini revealed the Saturn's magnetic field has no discernible tilt. This is a something of a curveball for planetary scientists, who have generally believed that some degree of tilt is a necessary for a planet to sustain a magnetic field.

Cassini continued beaming back data during its final plunge into Saturn, gathering information from deep down in the planet's atmosphere that will help us better understand the planet's composition and keep scientists occupied for decades to come. You can check out the spacecraft's perspective on all this by clicking through to our gallery.

Source: NASA

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