Cassini says goodbye with images from dying moments
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 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.