Cassini captures its own grave in new NASA image release
NASA has released a somber view of Saturn's night side, created from some of the final images captured by the Cassini spacecraft. An annotated version of the release poignantly highlights the region of Saturn's cloud surface in which the beloved probe would meet its end, just a few hours after the images used to create the new mosaic were captured.
The data and imagery collected by Cassini over the course of its 13-year mission exploring Saturn has been a source of untold inspiration, and given rise to countless scientific breakthroughs that have revolutionized our understanding of the planet, its rings, and its many moons.
We have been lavished with breathtakingly detailed views of Saturn's colossal polar storms, seen the bleak, yet beautiful expanses of alien landscapes, and observed waves in the delicate icy rings adorning the gas giant that form in the wake of enigmatic shepherd moons.
In short, Cassini gave us a grand tour of one of the jewels of our solar system, with a scope and depth that will remain unrivaled for decades to come. The end of Cassini's mission came as a blow to space fans across the globe who had come to love the stalwart probe, but there was some consolation to be found in the nature of its demise.
It was decided that, following an ambitious set of 22 daring orbits that carried the probe between the uppermost clouds of the gas giant and its innermost rings, that Cassini would meet its end by plunging into Saturn's atmosphere.
On September 15, 2017 Cassini made its fateful dive, during which it transmitted data on the gas giant's atmosphere right up to the point that Saturn's atmospheric forces overpowered the probe's engines, forcing its high-gain antenna out of alignment with Earth. Soon after, Cassini became a part of the planet that it had spent its life observing from afar.
NASA has now released a mosaic image created from some of the final images taken by the probe, displaying the area of Saturn's surface where Cassini slipped beneath the gas giant's cloud surface. The component images were captured by Cassini's wide-angle camera using red, blue and green spectral filters that, when combined, created a near natural color view of the planet.
The mosaic shows the night side of Saturn as seen by Cassini from a distance of 394,000 miles (634,000 km) from the gas giant, mere hours before its demise. By the time the spacecraft entered the gas giant's uppermost cloud layer at 6:31 am EDT, the planet had rotated enough for daylight to illuminate Cassini's resting place.