Space

Gallery: The Cassini team's top 2017 mission snaps

Gallery: The Cassini team's to...
A mosaic of Saturn, its rings, and six of its moons constructed from 80 images captured by Cassini just two days prior to the end of its marathon mission
A mosaic of Saturn, its rings, and six of its moons constructed from 80 images captured by Cassini just two days prior to the end of its marathon mission
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Cassini captured this image of waves in Saturn's ring material created by the gravitational influence of the nearby shepherd moon Daphnis on January 16, 2017
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Cassini captured this image of waves in Saturn's ring material created by the gravitational influence of the nearby shepherd moon Daphnis on January 16, 2017
Saturn imaged at infrared wavelengths, as seen from a distance of roughly 592,000 miles (953,000 km) by the Cassini spacecraft
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Saturn imaged at infrared wavelengths, as seen from a distance of roughly 592,000 miles (953,000 km) by the Cassini spacecraft
A mosaic of Saturn, its rings, and six of its moons constructed from 80 images captured by Cassini just two days prior to the end of its marathon mission
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A mosaic of Saturn, its rings, and six of its moons constructed from 80 images captured by Cassini just two days prior to the end of its marathon mission
Composite, false-color image of Saturn and its rings captured by Cassini on July 16, 2017
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Composite, false-color image of Saturn and its rings captured by Cassini on July 16, 2017
A view of Saturn's north pole captured in May 2017
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A view of Saturn's north pole captured in May 2017
Cassini image showing a section of the inner-central part of Saturn's B Ring
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Cassini image showing a section of the inner-central part of Saturn's B Ring
This view of Enceladus setting behind Saturn was one of the final images to be captured by Cassini prior to the end of its mission on September 15, 2017
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This view of Enceladus setting behind Saturn was one of the final images to be captured by Cassini prior to the end of its mission on September 15, 2017
Cassini shot of Saturn's surface looking out towards the terminator – the divide between the night and day side of the planet
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Cassini shot of Saturn's surface looking out towards the terminator – the divide between the night and day side of the planet
Image of Saturn's surface created from data collected by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer – heat emanating from the gas giant's interior is displayed in shades of red
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Image of Saturn's surface created from data collected by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer – heat emanating from the gas giant's interior is displayed in shades of red
Cassini Image of Saturn's C ring
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Cassini Image of Saturn's C ring
These two images illustrate the distance traveled by the Cassini spacecraft to get to Saturn – the image on the left was one of the first shots taken of the gas giant by Cassini in 2001, while the second image was taken one day before the end of the mission, on September 14, 2017
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These two images illustrate the distance traveled by the Cassini spacecraft to get to Saturn – the image on the left was one of the first shots taken of the gas giant by Cassini in 2001, while the second image was taken one day before the end of the mission, on September 14, 2017
Montage of views of the Saturnian moons Atlas (top) Daphnis (middle) and Pan (bottom)
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Montage of views of the Saturnian moons Atlas (top) Daphnis (middle) and Pan (bottom)
A visible light image of Saturn's B ring taken with the probe's wide-angle camera 
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A visible light image of Saturn's B ring taken with the probe's wide-angle camera 
Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this color view of Saturn and its rings
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Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this color view of Saturn and its rings
Mosaic of images captured during Cassini's first dive through the "big empty"
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Mosaic of images captured during Cassini's first dive through the "big empty"
Cassini mosaic taken just after the probe's sixth dive through the "big empty" –  Saturn can be seen to the left of the image, swathed in shadows thrown by its rings, which can be seen to the right of the mosaic
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Cassini mosaic taken just after the probe's sixth dive through the "big empty" –  Saturn can be seen to the left of the image, swathed in shadows thrown by its rings, which can be seen to the right of the mosaic
Cassini spotted these propeller features in Saturn's A ring on February 21, 2017
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Cassini spotted these propeller features in Saturn's A ring on February 21, 2017
In this image of Saturn's A ring, propeller features can be seen as small, bright double dashes either side of the wave pattern
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In this image of Saturn's A ring, propeller features can be seen as small, bright double dashes either side of the wave pattern
An unprocessed image of Titan, taken by Cassini on September 11, 2017,  mere days before its final rendezvous with the gas giant, and the end of its phenomenally successful 13-year mission to Saturn
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An unprocessed image of Titan, taken by Cassini on September 11, 2017,  mere days before its final rendezvous with the gas giant, and the end of its phenomenally successful 13-year mission to Saturn

The science team responsible for NASA's Cassini spacecraft has released a gallery of the stand-out images from the probe's final hectic year exploring the Saturnian system. The collection shows off the majesty of the colossal gas giant, its iconic rings, and its impressively diverse and sometimes bizarre population of moons.

In 2017, Cassini undertook a set of 22 daring orbits that saw the spacecraft dive through the 1,500 mile (2,000 km)-wide gap separating Saturn's uppermost cloud layer and innermost rings. This new orbit allowed the probe to capture striking imagery and valuable scientific data.

Of course, the potential reward came with significant risk. No spacecraft had ever traveled through the ring/planet passage before Cassini, and the science team was unsure as to what could be expected in this mysterious region. It was possible that Cassini would be bombarded with potentially damaging fast-moving ring particles, and so for the first few dives, the probe was directed to use its high-gain antenna as a shield to guard against any potential impacts.

Thankfully, Cassini emerged unscathed, and was able to complete most of its dives without the need to use its antenna as a shield, allowing the probe's handlers to operate its suite of scientific instruments with complete freedom. Following the initial dives, it was discovered that the planet/ring divide had a surprisingly low population of particles, prompting the team to grant the region the moniker – the "big empty."

Saturn imaged at infrared wavelengths, as seen from a distance of roughly 592,000 miles (953,000 km) by the Cassini spacecraft
Saturn imaged at infrared wavelengths, as seen from a distance of roughly 592,000 miles (953,000 km) by the Cassini spacecraft

During close passes, Cassini was able to image vast swathes of Saturn's surface with astonishing clarity, and captured wide-angle views of the gas giant's vast, swirling polar storms from the high vantage point afforded by the spacecraft's eccentric orbit.

The Grand Finale provided an unprecedented opportunity to undertake a close-proximity study of Saturn's rings. The probe harvested a wealth of data on the gas giant's adornment, revealing numerous insights regarding their dynamics and nature. Cassini's cameras captured elegant waves in the ring material created by the passage of shepherd moons and subtler propeller-shaped disturbances in the ring material.

Over the course of the Grand Finale, Cassini imaged an array of Saturnian moons, from the flying saucer shaped satellite Pan, to the geyser-spouting and potentially life-harboring moon Enceladus, which, as it turns out, may have tipped onto its side following the creation of its iconic "tiger stripes."

These are just a few brief examples of the incredible discoveries made by Cassini as it closed out its 13-year stay in the Saturnian system.

Head to the gallery to see Cassini's stand-out images of 2017, as chosen by the incredible women and men that guided the spacecraft through its final year.

Source: NASA

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