Cassini's Final Photo of Saturn Is Stunning

Wednesday, 22 November 2017 - 11:12AM
Space
Wednesday, 22 November 2017 - 11:12AM
Cassini's Final Photo of Saturn Is Stunning
Image credit: NASA
Rest in peace, Cassini. Your contributions to our understanding of the solar system will not be forgotten.

It's been two months now since the loyal space probe ended its thirteen year mission as it tumbled down into the intense heat of Saturn, consumed by the very planet that it had spent the better part of a decade photographing. As Cassini reached the end of its lifespan, NASA scientists decided to allow it some dignity by providing it with a Viking funeral of sorts as it burned away in Saturn's atmosphere.

Now, as a final memorial to Cassini's contributions to science, NASA has released the final photograph that the probe took before beginning its final journey into Saturn's gravitational embrace. As a capstone for the entire mission, there's no better image that sums up the poignant beauty of the ringed planet and its place in the inky black void of space.




In truth, this isn't just one photograph, but rather a composite of multiple images that Cassini took on its final trip around the planet. NASA employees have lovingly stitched together Cassini's work to create a whole, full image that shows off the entire planet in one go—Cassini wasn't far enough away from Saturn in its final few rotations to be able to snap such a wide angle shot.

It's fitting that this photograph is the result of many parts being brought together to provide a clearer look at a distant planet - that is, in essence, a fairly good summary of what's been achieved with Cassini, as scores of scientists and astronomers have worked together to learn as much as possible based on the probe's data.

Cassini could well have continued working for a while left to come, but NASA scientists worried that the risk of an unexpected failure had become too great. If Cassini were to break down without warning, scientists wouldn't have been able to guide it to a safe resting place, which could potentially have meant that the probe could have fallen on Titan or Europa, two of Saturn's moons which scientists are eager to study further, and which could potentially have become contaminated by the Earth bacteria that was present on Cassini.

Considering the potential for life existing somewhere in the solar system, it would be an incredibly irresponsible to risk introducing foreign germs that might cause harm to local ecosystems. Even if there isn't alien life on these distant moons, there would be a risk of bacteria multiplying and evolving, causing changes to the landscape and causing headaches for future missions to explore these environments.

So goodbye, Cassini—while you're gone now, you're not forgotten. Humanity will no doubt continue debating your findings for years to come, as we attempt to learn more about Saturn and its moons.

This final, incredible photograph will ensure that nobody will be in a hurry to ignore Cassini's importance in the history of interplanetary exploration.
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NASA
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Cassini's Final Photo of Saturn Is Stunning
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