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  Cassini 'Grand Finale': comments and questions

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Author Topic:   Cassini 'Grand Finale': comments and questions
Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-15-2016 11:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This thread is intended for comments and questions regarding the Cassini mission to Saturn and its "Grand Finale."

After almost 20 years in space, the Cassini probe's mission will end on September 15, 2017 at 8:07 a.m. EDT (0007 GMT Sept. 16).

In late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft will begin a new type of mission at Saturn. During its final months, the spacecraft's orbit will carry it high above the planet's north pole and then send it plunging between the planet and the innermost edge of its rings.

Beginning on Nov. 30, 2016, Cassini will repeatedly climb high above Saturn's north pole, then plunge to a point just outside the narrow F ring (the edge of the main rings), completing 22 such orbits. Then, on April 22, 2017, Cassini will leap over the rings to begin its final series of dives between the planet and the inner edge of the rings. This is the Cassini "Grand Finale."

After 22 of these orbits, each taking six days to complete, the spacecraft, will plunge into the upper atmosphere of the gas giant planet, where it will burn up like a meteor, ending the mission to the Saturn system.

SkyMan1958
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posted 09-15-2016 11:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just noticed that as of today, September 15, Cassini has exactly one year left.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-04-2017 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
Eyes on Cassini

The Cassini mission launched in 1997 and spent seven years traveling to Saturn, arriving in 2004. Cassini is the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, and has provided a treasure trove of data and images of the entire Saturnian system.

Now you can ride onboard the spacecraft throughout the entire mission (20 years) using "Eyes on Cassini" on your Mac or PC.

In this interactive visualization, you can ride along with the Cassini spacecraft at any time during the entire mission, a period of 20 years! For example, watch the arrival at Saturn on July 1st, 2004, or see Cassini launch the Huygens probe and follow it to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. You can see where Cassini was when it captured iconic images, and you can compare the real images to the visualization. You can even ride along with Cassini during its final 20 orbits, in which it zips between Saturn and its rings — a place no spacecraft has explored before. And you can watch these things happen at actual speed, or much, much faster.

All of this and more is waiting to be explored.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-26-2017 04:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (April 26, 2017 at 2 a.m. PDT (0900 GMT):
Cassini has made its first dive between the rings and Saturn. It is not in contact with Earth at this time and is expected to regain contact via NASA’s Deep Space Network no earlier than around midnight PDT on April 26, 2017 (3 a.m. EDT on April 27, 2017).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-26-2017 04:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Google's Doodle for today (April 26) celebrates Cassini's Grand Finale:

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-27-2017 02:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (April 27, 2017 at 12:20 a.m. PDT (0720 GMT):
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth after its successful first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017.

The spacecraft is in the process of beaming back science and engineering data collected during its passage, via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert. The DSN acquired Cassini's signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26, 2017 (2:56 a.m. EDT on April 27) and data began flowing at 12:01 a.m. PDT (3:01 a.m. EDT) on April 27.

Above: These unprocessed images show features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before. The view was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive past the planet, April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Blackarrow
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posted 05-04-2017 04:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"The images from the first pass were great, but we were conservative with the camera settings. We plan to make updates to our observations for a similar opportunity on June 28 that we think will result in even better views," said Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team based at Caltech in Pasadena, California.
Is this quotation from Andy Ingersoll (hasn't he been with JPL at least since Mariner 9?) a polite admission that most of these images are, ahem, soft-focused? Let's see what the future "dives" achieve, but is Cassini capable, given the close range and the high speed, of focusing on the cloud-tops?

This was also a worry for me with the Juno images of Jupiter, but in the case of Juno NASA is producing some really spectacular images. Of course, Juno is a much newer spacecraft. Cassini was designed in the 1980s and launched in the 1990s.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-04-2017 06:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
...is Cassini capable, given the close range and the high speed, of focusing on the cloud-tops?
To quote Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, referencing Cassini's velocity during its dips between Saturn and the rings:
I'll tell you a little bit about that 76,000 miles per hour — it smears the dickens out of the images. So we really can't take images right up that close, we have to be a little farther away.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-05-2017 11:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks, Robert. I was afraid of that. It will be interesting to see if they can improve the focus by "slewing" Cassini to focus on specific areas. I also assume that computer image processing will also help.

denali414
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posted 09-05-2017 07:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From "In Saturn's Rings":
In case you have not heard, the end of Cassini's historic mission is Sept. 15th next week with a dramatic plunge into Saturn's atmosphere. It is both a sad and joyous occasion and we are thrilled to have be invited to attend with full media credentials. What does that mean for you?
  • Exclusive live coverage on our social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – with some live streams

  • We will be filming interviews, filming Mission Control and more for the Behind-the-scenes materials for the DVD/Blu-Ray releases

  • We will be making useful contacts with JPL, NASA and other space folk to help with the premiere of the film next May
So be sure to follow along – we leave September 12th and return the 16th.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-08-2017 10:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From The Amoeba People:
On September 15, 2017, the Cassini Spacecraft will make a final dive into the atmosphere of Saturn where it will become part of the planet forever. Onward!!!

Blackarrow
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posted 09-11-2017 04:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In 1961, my father bought me a large-format book called "The Golden Book of Astronomy." I was utterly mesmerized by one of the illustrations, a painting by Chesley Bonestell showing the rings of Saturn from below. The picture shows scudding clouds floating past in Saturn's upper atmosphere.

That picture appeared earlier in Willy Ley's 1949 book "The Conquest of Space" and the 1955 film of the same name.

I could not have imagined, 56 years after seeing that remarkable picture, that I would get a chance to see the real thing, courtesy of Cassini. A JPL movie anticipating Cassini's destruction at the end of this week shows the spacecraft burning up in Saturn's upper atmosphere against a backdrop which was surely inspired by the Bonestell painting.

Meanwhile, images from Cassini's "Grand Finale" have shown the rings from below, almost as Bonestell imagined the scene, long before the space-age made a voyage like Cassini's possible.

Goodbye Cassini. Well done, good and faithful servant.

denali414
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posted 09-13-2017 08:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Should be some great shots of the end...

NOVA: Death Dive to Saturn
Airing September 13, 2017 on PBS

Almost everything we know today about the beautiful giant ringed planet comes from Cassini, the NASA mission that launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Since then, the spacecraft has been beaming home miraculous images and scientific data, revealing countless wonders about the planet, its rings, and 62 moons — including some that could harbor life.

As the mission approaches its final days in 2017, it attempts one last set of daring maneuvers — diving between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn's atmosphere. Aiming to skim less than 2,000 miles above the cloud tops, no spacecraft has ever gone so close to Saturn, and hopes are high for incredible observations that could solve major mysteries about the planet's core. But such a daring maneuver comes with many risks.

Join NASA engineers for the tense and triumphant moments as they find out if their gambit has paid off, and discover the wonders that Cassini has revealed over the years.

denali414
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posted 09-13-2017 02:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just watching the NASA channel and the press conference for Cassini, and lo and behold, there is Robert Pearlman asking about the burn up of Cassini at the conference.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-14-2017 02:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
Cassini's mark: Plunging into Saturn, what the NASA probe leaves behind on Earth

The first spacecraft to orbit Saturn will never be available for a museum to preserve and display.

Now in the final hours of a collision course with the ringed planet, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Friday (Sept. 15), where it will break apart, melt and disintegrate. After almost 20 years in space, 13 of which at Saturn, Cassini will not even leave a mark in the planet's clouds — it will simply go silent and fade away.

The same might be true for Cassini's place in pop culture.

denali414
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posted 09-14-2017 02:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The NOVA special was pretty good — the most interesting part was the basement of JPL and how they still had all the old computers and old machines there to communicate with Cassini.

You forget how quickly technology changes and how Cassini's data rate in kilobytes not gigabytes. So when planning these long range missions, must really be aware of also maintaining systems to communicate.

Jurg Bolli
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posted 09-14-2017 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jurg Bolli   Click Here to Email Jurg Bolli     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I liked the NOVA show a great deal, lots of science and amazing photos and animations.

Dave_Johnson
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posted 09-14-2017 06:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave_Johnson   Click Here to Email Dave_Johnson     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Real-time graphic (updates every 5 seconds) display showing Cassini's current position (distance and velocity) from Saturn.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-15-2017 07:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And Cassini is no more...
"Maybe a trickle of telemetry left, but just heard the signal from the spacecraft is gone and within the next 45 seconds so will be the spacecraft... I'm going to call this the end of mission." — Earl Maize, Cassini program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
A natural color view of the last image captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft of Saturn's night side, as lit by reflected light from the rings, and showing the location where the probe would enter the planet's atmosphere hours later.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-15-2017 08:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jonathan McDowell on Twitter:
There is still one piece of Cassini still in orbit around Saturn: the neutral mass spectrometer cover was ejected just after orbit insertion.

randy
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posted 09-15-2017 09:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Farewell Cassini. You served us well.

Blackarrow
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posted 09-15-2017 12:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by denali414:
You forget how quickly technology changes...
It's not just improvements in technology. Voyager 2 data was transmitted and received at a higher data-rate at Neptune in 1989 than data sent by and received from New Horizons at Pluto in 2015.

Distance wasn't really an issue (Pluto was only about 300 million miles further away in 2015 than Neptune was in 1989). As I recall, more funding and more availability of DSN resources made the Voyager 2 data return faster.

But you're absolutely right about the need to maintain vintage computer equipment (and the people who know how to operate it!).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-15-2017 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
With regards to Cassini and technology, the engine that enabled the spacecraft to enter orbit around Saturn and which set up its "grand finale" was Apollo heritage: originally designed by Marquardt, it served as the reaction control system thruster on both the Apollo service module and lunar module. From an Aerojet Rocketdyne press release:
Aboard the spacecraft, the company's R-4D 100-lbf bipropellant engine slowed the spacecraft for capture by Saturn's gravity and has been used for major trajectory changes throughout the mission, including setting up the Grand Finale...

The R-4D derives its heritage from the Apollo program. The most recent variant, the High Performance Apogee Thruster (HiPAT) rocket engine, is the world's premier apogee insertion engine for geosynchronous spacecraft. The MR-103H derives its heritage from the Voyager missions (40 years on orbit and still operational) and its most recent variation provides attitude control for a variety of Low-Earth Orbit, Medium-Earth Orbit, geosynchronous and interplanetary spacecraft including New Horizons.

In late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft began its second to last set of orbits called the ring-grazing orbits. Following a gravity assist from Saturn's moon, Titan, the R-4D main engine was fired to fine-tune the trajectory, during which Cassini passed just outside of Saturn's main rings 20 times.

It was the 183rd and last planned firing of the main engine, and all remaining maneuvers were completed using Aerojet Rocketdyne's MR-103H thrusters.

SkyMan1958
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posted 09-15-2017 06:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Congratulations to all of those that have worked on the Cassini project!!! It's been a fun ride to go along with.

I look forward to when our next probe, orbiter or lander goes out to Saturn and its moons.

Blackarrow
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posted 09-15-2017 07:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It was the 183rd and last planned firing of the main engine, and all remaining maneuvers were completed using Aerojet Rocketdyne's MR-103H thrusters.
You're a mine of information, Robert. I didn't know that! But did Cassini ever fire its duplicate main engine, or were all firings made by the primary engine?

moorouge
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posted 09-16-2017 09:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll tell you a little bit about that 76,000 miles per hour — it smears the dickens out of the images.
Carl Sagan mentions this problem with the Voyager spacecraft. The ideal solution was to have a camera that could swivel as it made a pass. However, this imposed weight and reliability problems so was discarded as an option.

With a fixed camera, to obtain a clear picture it meant that the whole spacecraft had to be programmed to track the target. This too was was not a viable option. Was this the problem with Cassini?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-16-2017 10:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Swiveling Cassini would have redirected its science instruments, which are mounted on different sides of its body. So even if such a maneuver was possible, it wouldn't be prudent, as data collection was the priority during the grand finale's 22 dives.

denali414
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posted 09-16-2017 10:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
But you're absolutely right about the need to maintain vintage computer equipment (and the people who know how to operate it!).
No doubt! Not just the hardware but the coding and software. People today would just give a quizzical look if asked to decode 1990s code. Guess that is what some call job security.

Kite
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posted 09-16-2017 04:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kite     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Congratulations to all involved over the many years of this wonderfully successful project. An incredible journey which has gathered so much information on, arguably, the most glorious sight from a small telescope in the sky.

Blackarrow
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posted 09-19-2017 06:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Having been reviewing my old Cassini DVDs (now transferred to Blu-ray) I have just watched news coverage of the launch in 1997 and I can't help wondering what happened to that irritating little girl who became the face of the anti-Cassini movement. (She must now be around 34.)

I've just watched her being interviewed at the launch viewing area saying: "For the first time I just want it out of here, get out of here, go!" (or words to that effect).

If you're really scared about a rocket exploding and showering the area with deadly plutonium, why stand that close to the launch pad?

I don't recall any further comments by her in the news media. She must be relieved that the plutonium has now been safely disposed of. Has anyone any idea what became of her?

apolloprojeckt
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posted 09-21-2017 04:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for apolloprojeckt   Click Here to Email apolloprojeckt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Mabe stupid question, but why send the Cassini not into deep space, money issue or power problems?

Robert Pearlman
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Cassini's end of mission was dictated by its remaining fuel supply, planetary protection concerns and a desire to maximize the science possible with the spacecraft. To quote NASA:
The propellant remaining could be used for a few additional years of operations, but the scientific value of the observations during that time is much smaller than the scientific value of the mission's Grand Finale.
With regards to planetary protection:
Over the past decade, Cassini data have revealed the potential of two moons of Saturn, Enceladus and Titan, to contain habitable — or at least "prebiotic" — environments. It is unlikely but possible that Cassini could someday collide with one of these moons if it were left in orbit around Saturn. Based upon exposure experiments on the International Space Station, it is known that some microbes and microbial spores from Earth are able to survive many years in the space environment — even with no air or water, and minimal protection from radiation.

Therefore, NASA has chosen to dispose of the spacecraft in Saturn's atmosphere to avoid the possibility that viable microbes from Cassini could potentially contaminate Saturn's moons — principally Enceladus, and to a lesser extent, Titan. This will ensure that Cassini cannot spoil future studies of habitability and potential life on those moons.

And maximizing science:
Concepts were evaluated for parking Cassini in an orbit around Saturn that would have been stable for a long time, along with a variety of other mission scenarios. However, the Grand Finale of close dives past the outer and inner edges of the rings, and ultra-close brushes with the planet and its small, inner moons, offered such enormous scientific value that this scenario was chosen for the mission's conclusion.

SkyMan1958
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posted 09-21-2017 05:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's always amusing to me that they kept talking about protecting Enceladus and Titan from Earth microbes. I have no issue with using Enceladus in that description, but given that Huygens landed on Titan, I think that it is pushing it to talk about protecting Titan from exposure to microbes.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-21-2017 05:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As a lander, Huygens was likely held to greater pre-launch sanitation standards than Cassini, but it was what Huygens and Cassini revealed about Titan that led to the greater interest about protecting it going forward.

SpaceAholic
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posted 11-09-2017 03:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How NASA engineers mourn the death of a spacecraft, from the Los Angeles Times:
Soon after Cassini vaporized like a shooting star in the Saturnian sky, about 175 members of the mission’s engineering team gathered in an airy banquet room at the La Canada Flintridge Country Club to eulogize their spacecraft.

There was toasts and singing. But there were some misty eyes as well.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-21-2017 02:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
Cassini Image Mosaic: A Farewell to Saturn

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.

There is much to remember and celebrate in marking the end of the mission. Cassini's exploration of Saturn and its environs was deep, comprehensive and historic.

"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," said Robert West, Cassini's deputy imaging team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The Cassini imaging team had been planning this special farewell view of Saturn for years. For some, when the end finally came, it was a difficult goodbye.

"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, an imaging team associate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland. "It was hard to say goodbye, but how lucky we were to be able to see it all through Cassini's eyes!"

For others, Cassini's farewell to Saturn is reminiscent of another parting from long 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," said Carolyn Porco, former Voyager imaging team member and Cassini's imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "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."

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