Environment & Science

Cassini's last picture — and 13 more stunning images from the spacecraft

A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, measures 3,200 miles across and is larger than the planet Mercury. As the seasons have changed in the Saturnian system, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south, the azure blue in the northern Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading. The southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, is taking on a bluish hue. This mosaic combines six images — two each of red, green and blue spectral filters. The images were obtained by Cassini's wide-angle camera on May 6, 2012, at a distance of approximately 483,000 miles from Titan.
A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, measures 3,200 miles across and is larger than the planet Mercury. As the seasons have changed in the Saturnian system, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south, the azure blue in the northern Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading. The southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, is taking on a bluish hue. This mosaic combines six images — two each of red, green and blue spectral filters. The images were obtained by Cassini's wide-angle camera on May 6, 2012, at a distance of approximately 483,000 miles from Titan.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Cassini sent its final signal early Friday morning before making a fiery plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, where it lasted 20 seconds longer than anticipated as it burned up.

JPL received its final transmission from the spacecraft just before 5 a.m. Shortly after that, project manager Earl Maize made it official and declared: "End of mission." Applause and tears followed.

Launched in 1997 to study Saturn — a mere 746 million miles or so away from Earth — Cassini was the first spacecraft to enter the giant gas planet's orbit. 

While Cassini's life is over, scientists will spend years combing through the treasure trove of data and images it gathered during its two decades of exploration.

This natural color view, created using images taken with red, green and blue spectral filters, was the last image taken by the cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. It looks toward Saturn's night side, lit by reflected light from the rings, and shows the location at which the spacecraft would enter the planet's atmosphere hours later. The view was acquired on Sept. 14, 2017 at 19:59 UTC (spacecraft event time). The view was taken in visible light using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of 394,000 miles from Saturn.
This natural color view, created using images taken with red, green and blue spectral filters, was the last image taken by the cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. It looks toward Saturn's night side, lit by reflected light from the rings, and shows the location at which the spacecraft would enter the planet's atmosphere hours later. The view was acquired on Sept. 14, 2017 at 19:59 UTC (spacecraft event time). The view was taken in visible light using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of 394,000 miles from Saturn.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
This image of Saturn's northern hemisphere was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back to Earth.
This image of Saturn's northern hemisphere was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back to Earth.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This view of Enceladus was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back.
This view of Enceladus was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
This image of Saturn's outer A ring features the small moon Daphnis and the waves it raises in the edges of the Keeler Gap. The image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back to Earth.
This image of Saturn's outer A ring features the small moon Daphnis and the waves it raises in the edges of the Keeler Gap. The image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back to Earth.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
It may look as though Saturn's moon Mimas is crashing through the rings in this image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, but Mimas is actually 28,000 miles away from the rings. The gravitational pull of Mimas (246 miles across) creates waves in Saturn's rings that are visible in some Cassini images. The image was taken in green light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on Oct. 23, 2016. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 114,000 miles from Mimas.
It may look as though Saturn's moon Mimas is crashing through the rings in this image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, but Mimas is actually 28,000 miles away from the rings. The gravitational pull of Mimas (246 miles across) creates waves in Saturn's rings that are visible in some Cassini images. The image was taken in green light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on Oct. 23, 2016. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 114,000 miles from Mimas.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturn's largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, appear to be stacked on top of each other in this true-color scene from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The north polar hood can be seen on Titan (3,200 miles across) appearing as a detached layer at the top of the moon on the top right. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural-color view. The images were acquired with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on June 16, 2011, at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles.
Saturn's largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, appear to be stacked on top of each other in this true-color scene from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The north polar hood can be seen on Titan (3,200 miles across) appearing as a detached layer at the top of the moon on the top right. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural-color view. The images were acquired with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on June 16, 2011, at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
With giant Saturn hanging in the blackness and sheltering Cassini from the sun's blinding glare, the spacecraft viewed the rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world. This panoramic view was created by combining 165 images taken by Cassini's wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006.
With giant Saturn hanging in the blackness and sheltering Cassini from the sun's blinding glare, the spacecraft viewed the rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world. This panoramic view was created by combining 165 images taken by Cassini's wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Three of Saturn's moons — Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas — are captured in this group photo from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Tethys (660 miles across) appears above the rings. Enceladus (313 miles across) sits just below center. Mimas (246 miles across) hangs below and to the left of Enceladus. The image was taken in visible light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on Dec. 3, 2015. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 837,000 miles from Enceladus.
Three of Saturn's moons — Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas — are captured in this group photo from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Tethys (660 miles across) appears above the rings. Enceladus (313 miles across) sits just below center. Mimas (246 miles across) hangs below and to the left of Enceladus. The image was taken in visible light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on Dec. 3, 2015. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 837,000 miles from Enceladus.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Since NASA's Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in mid-2004, the planet's appearance has changed greatly. The shifting angle of sunlight as the seasons march forward has illuminated the giant hexagon-shaped jet stream around the north polar region, and the subtle bluish hues seen earlier in the mission have continued to fade. This view shows Saturn's northern hemisphere, as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice. Saturn's year is nearly 30 Earth years long. Cassini scanned across the planet and its rings on April 25, 2016, capturing three sets of red, green and blue images to cover this entire scene. The images were obtained using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of approximately 1.9 million miles from Saturn.
Since NASA's Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in mid-2004, the planet's appearance has changed greatly. The shifting angle of sunlight as the seasons march forward has illuminated the giant hexagon-shaped jet stream around the north polar region, and the subtle bluish hues seen earlier in the mission have continued to fade. This view shows Saturn's northern hemisphere, as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice. Saturn's year is nearly 30 Earth years long. Cassini scanned across the planet and its rings on April 25, 2016, capturing three sets of red, green and blue images to cover this entire scene. The images were obtained using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of approximately 1.9 million miles from Saturn.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
NASA's Cassini spacecraft zoomed by Saturn's icy moon Enceladus on Oct. 14, 2015, capturing this stunning image of the moon's north pole. Scientists expected the north polar region of Enceladus to be heavily cratered, based on low-resolution images from the Voyager mission, but high-resolution Cassini images show a landscape of stark contrasts. Thin cracks cross over the pole, the northernmost extent of a global system of such fractures. Before this Cassini flyby, scientists did not know if the fractures extended so far north on Enceladus. The image was taken in visible green light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 4,000 miles from Enceladus.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft zoomed by Saturn's icy moon Enceladus on Oct. 14, 2015, capturing this stunning image of the moon's north pole. Scientists expected the north polar region of Enceladus to be heavily cratered, based on low-resolution images from the Voyager mission, but high-resolution Cassini images show a landscape of stark contrasts. Thin cracks cross over the pole, the northernmost extent of a global system of such fractures. Before this Cassini flyby, scientists did not know if the fractures extended so far north on Enceladus. The image was taken in visible green light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 4,000 miles from Enceladus.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This image was taken as Cassini was looking across the south pole of Enceladus. At the time, the spacecraft was essentially in the moon's equatorial plane. The image was taken through the clear filter of the narrow angle camera on November 30, 2010, 1.4 years after the southern autumnal equinox. The shadow of the body of Enceladus on the lower portions of the jets is clearly seen.
This image was taken as Cassini was looking across the south pole of Enceladus. At the time, the spacecraft was essentially in the moon's equatorial plane. The image was taken through the clear filter of the narrow angle camera on November 30, 2010, 1.4 years after the southern autumnal equinox. The shadow of the body of Enceladus on the lower portions of the jets is clearly seen.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan's north polar seas. The glint, also called a specular reflection, is the bright area near the 11 o'clock position at upper left. This mirror-like reflection, known as the specular point, is in the south of Titan's largest sea, Kraken Mare, just north of an island archipelago separating two parts of the sea. The view was acquired during Cassini's August 21, 2014 flyby of Titan, also referred to as
This near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan's north polar seas. The glint, also called a specular reflection, is the bright area near the 11 o'clock position at upper left. This mirror-like reflection, known as the specular point, is in the south of Titan's largest sea, Kraken Mare, just north of an island archipelago separating two parts of the sea. The view was acquired during Cassini's August 21, 2014 flyby of Titan, also referred to as "T104" by the Cassini team.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A false-color view of Saturn's clouds. From the producer, Kevin M. Gill: This image is
A false-color view of Saturn's clouds. From the producer, Kevin M. Gill: This image is "made from uncalibrated (raw) infrared filtered images from Cassini, taken on July 20, 2016. I mapped the CB2 filtered image (.75 micron wavelength) to red, MT2 (.727 microns) to green, and MT1 (.619 microns) to blue."
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Kevin M. Gill