Adios, ciao, auf Wiedersehen, bon voyage. In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series of images that has been assembled into a new mosaic.
Cassini’s wide-angle camera acquired 42 red, green and blue images, covering the planet and its main rings from one end to the other on Sept. 13, 2017. Imaging scientists stitched these frames together to make a natural color view. The scene also includes the moons Prometheus, Pandora, Janus, Epimetheus, Mimas and Enceladus, visible as tiny, faint pinpoints in the labeled version. I love how the shadowed side of Saturn is backlit by sunlight reflecting off the rings. It’s even brighter on the planet’s sides, where the reflection is more intense, than in the center, where the globe directly faces the deepest shadow.
“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,” said Carolyn Porco, former Voyager imaging team member and Cassini’s imaging team leader. “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.”
Touchdown on Titan. Be sure to watch to the end for the landing and parachute shadow.
Launched in 1997, the Cassini spacecraft orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. The mission made numerous dramatic discoveries, including water geysers and an internal ocean on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Early on, the main spacecraft launched the smaller Huygens lander to Titan which successfully touched down on Jan. 14, 2005. Cassini ended its journey with a dramatic plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017, returning unique science data until it lost contact with Earth.