NASA releases Cassini's last photo of Saturn

Science team stitched together 42 images to create stunning photo of Saturn backlit by the Sun.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Nov 23, 2017
NASA has released the final image of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft before it plunged into the planet's atmosphere on September 15, showing the entire planet and its rings backlit by the Sun.

On September 13, two days before the dive that ended the mission, the probe's wide-angle camera captured 42 separate red, blue, and green images of Saturn from one end of the main ring system to the other.

These images were then stitched together by Cassini scientists, who created a photo of the giant planet in natural color, as well as several of its moons, against the black background of space.

An annotated version of the image identifies the moons Prometheus, Pandora, Epimethius, Janus, Enceladus, and Mimas.

Cassini orbited and studied the Saturn system for 13 years, from its arrival in 2004 to its last dive into the planet's atmosphere two months ago.

Among the mission's numerous major discoveries are methane and ethane lakes on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and both geological activity and evidence of a subsurface ocean on Enceladus.

"It was all too easy to get used to receiving new images from the Saturn system on a daily basis, seeing new sights, watching things change," said Elizabeth Turtle, who is a member of the imaging team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland.

"It was hard to say goodbye, but how lucky we were to see it all through Cassini's eyes!"

Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute of Boulder, Colorado, who was also a member of the Voyager imaging team, likened Cassini's parting shot of Saturn to a similar photo of the planet captured by the departing Voyager 1 spacecraft 37 years ago.

"For 37 years, Voyager 1's last view of Saturn, has been, for me, one of the most evocative images ever taken in the exploration of the solar system. In a similar vein, this 'Farewell to Saturn' will forevermore serve as a reminder of the dramatic conclusion to that wondrous time humankind spent in intimate study of our Sun's most iconic planetary system."

After its closest flyby of Saturn in November 1980, Voyager 1 passed close to Titan, using the moon's gravity to send it on a path out of the solar system.

Voyager 2 flew by Saturn in August 1981, then proceeded to conduct the first ever flybys of Uranus and Neptune.

"Cassini's scientific bounty has been truly spectacular--a vast array of new results leading to new insights and surprises, from the tiniest of ring particles to the opening of new landscapes on Titan and Enceladus, to the deep interior of Saturn itself," emphasized Cassini deputy imaging team leader Robert West of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

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