NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • After two decades in space, NASA's Cassini spacecraft ended its journey exploring the planet Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017. The spacecraft dove into the planet's atmosphere while sending data back to Earth until it burned up and disintegrated like a meteor. NASA lost contact with the vehicle at 7:55 a.m. EDT.</br></br> A black and white image of Saturn taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Aug. 12 and released on Oct. 23, 2017 shows the icy rings of Saturn at a distance of about 581,000 miles from the surface of the planet.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • This monochrome view is the last image taken by the imaging cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. It looks toward the planet'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.
  • Saturn's active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus sinks behind the giant planet in a farewell portrait from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, Sept. 15, 2017.
  • The spacecraft Cassini above Saturn's northern hemisphere before its final dive, in a NASA handout illustration obtained by Reuters, Aug. 29, 2017.
  • Launched on Oct. 15, 1997, Cassini entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004, carrying the European Huygens probe, whose key discoveries have included a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity and liquid methane seas on the moon Titan. <br></br> This Aug. 12, 2009 composite image made available by NASA shows Saturn in equinox seen by the approaching Cassini spacecraft. Saturn's equinox occurs only once in about 15 Earth years.
    NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/AP
  • Over the past 19 years, the Cassini orbiter has explored Saturn and its complex system of rings and moons. On Sept. 15, 2017, after its final orbit, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, burn up like a meteor and become part of the planet. In order to avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini someday colliding with one of the moons, NASA chose to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn. <br></br>The vortex of Saturn's north polar storm resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage in this false-color image.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • This Jan. 16, 2017, image made available by NASA shows one of Saturn's moons, Daphnis, as it orbits among the planet's outer rings. The little moon's gravity creates waves in the surrounding rings horizontally and vertically.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/AP
  • This Dec. 3, 2015, image made available by NASA shows three of Saturn's moons — from top, Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas — seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP
  • Images taken during the Cassini spacecraft's orbital insertion on June 30 show definite compositional variation within Saturn's rings.
    NASA/JPL/University of Colorado
  • 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. <br></br> Titan, Saturn's largest moon, measures 3,200 miles across and is larger than the planet Mercury. Cassini scientists have been watching the moon's south pole since a vortex appeared in its atmosphere in 2012.
  • This image of the northern polar region of Saturn shows both the aurora and underlying atmosphere, seen at two different wavelengths of infrared light as captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
    NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
  • In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn's rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. <br></br> Earth, which is 898 million miles away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • Although solid-looking in many images, Saturn's rings are actually translucent. In this picture, we can glimpse the shadow of the rings on the planet through (and below) the A and C rings themselves, towards the lower right hand corner.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • This image was taken on November 30, 2010, 1.4 years after southern autumnal equinox. The shadow of the body of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, 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. While Cassini has captured views of the polar seas and the sun glinting off of them in the past, this is the first time both have been seen together in the same view.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho
  • The F ring shepherd Pandora is captured here along with other well-known examples of how Saturn's moons shape the rings. From the narrow F ring, to the gaps in the A ring, to the Cassini Division, Saturn's rings are a masterpiece of gravitational sculpting by the moons. The image was taken on March 8, 2014.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • These two false-color views from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show detailed patterns that change during one Saturn day within the huge storm in the planet's northern hemisphere. Taken about 11 hours -- or one Saturn day -- apart, these mosaics consist of 48 images each. The top mosaic was taken earlier than the bottom mosaic. Both mosaics were captured on Aug. 7, 2011, and each of the two batches of images was taken over about 2.5 hours.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.)
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • This 2007 image made available by NASA shows a hydrocarbon sea named Ligeia Mare on Saturn's moon Titan, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Slight changes observed over several passes indicates that Titan's seas are not stagnant, but rather, dynamic environments. Ligeia is Titan's second-largest liquid hydrocarbon sea, and has a total area of about 50,000 square miles, making it 50 percent larger than Lake Superior on Earth.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell via AP
  • NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers and technicians lower the 3,420-pound Cassini Spacecraft into the Launch-Vehicle-Adapter at JPL in Pasadena, Calif., Sept. 20, 1996.
    Frank Wiese/AP