An incredible photo of Saturn taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft as she plunged to her death is absolutely jaw-dropping.
Cassini has since plunged into the gas giant of Jupiter, ending her 20-some-year mission that began back in the 1990s and has led to some of the most tremendous scientific breakthroughs in the history of our exploration of the solar system. But just before she became a permanent part of Jupiter, she snapped some incredible images of Saturn that will forever live on in astronomical lore.
Experts stitched the raw images together to create the beautiful full planet view you see above, a truly iconic image of perhaps our solar system’s most famous planet. The images were acquired by Cassini on Sept. 13 as it was making its finail dive into the atmosphere on the planet.
Cassini was launched all the way back in 1997, and it completed its primary mission in the Saturnian system back in 2008. Its mission was extended until this year, until the spacecraft finally ran out of fuel.
“While millions of people viewed the events at JPL via the Web, including the Cassini Mission’s many international partners, the Cassini Spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday Sept. 15,” NASA said on its site. “The spacecraft was sending back unique science data all the way up to its demise. Thus ended Cassini’s enormously successful, 19.9-year mission.
“Sept. 13: Cassini turned and pointed its Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) telescopes to Saturn. It spent 2.5 hours making one final mosaic of the planet and its rings. From the viewing geometry shown here, one can imagine the spacecraft’s final path, consisting of a daring dive over the planet’s northern hemisphere, which would end on Saturn’s sunward- and earthward-facing side.”