The Cassini spacecraft has sent back its final pictures from the Cassini–Huygens space mission. NASA has released the images from Cassini which include amazing photographs of the rings of Saturn and Dione, one of Saturn’s 62 moons. Carolyn Porco, a member of the Cassini imaging team, commented on the Cassini–Huygens mission and the latest pictures from the Cassini spacecraft.
“I am moved, as I know everyone else is, looking at these exquisite images of Dione’s surface and crescent, and knowing that they are the last we will see of this far-off world for a very long time to come. Right down to the last, Cassini has faithfully delivered another extraordinary set of riches. How lucky we have been.”
The Cassini–Huygens mission was a joint mission between the European and Italian Space Agencies and NASA. The mission was to orbit Saturn and its moons and study the atmosphere. Launched from Earth in 1997, the Cassini spacecraft made its way towards Saturn. Before Cassini reached Saturn, it studied Jupiter in 2000 for six months. Cassini reached Saturn in 2004. At that time, the Huygens probe was released and sent to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Scientists believe that Titan is similar in the make-up of early Earth and could potentially harbor microbial life.
The pictures taken of Dione were not the intended purpose of the Cassini spacecraft when it completed its final flyby of the moon. Cassini was supposed to only gather information about Dione’s gravity. The camera was not aware of the spacecraft’s position and Cassini snapped the picture.
The Cassini spacecraft still has a year and a half left on its mission. Cassini will continue to do flybys around more of Saturn’s moons. Cassini will approach to within 30 miles of the moon Enceladus. The dates that Cassini will be making approaches to the moon are October 14, October 28, and December 19. Information gathered about Enceladus will be of great importance to scientists here on Earth since scientists believe that Enceladus is still active in a geological sense. A spokesperson for NASA commented on what Cassini will be doing when it reaches Enceladus.
“Cassini will make its deepest-ever dive through the moon’s plume of icy spray at this time, collecting valuable data about what’s going on beneath the surface.”
In 2017, the Cassini-Huygens will be officially over. The Cassini spacecraft will end its mission by diving in and out of the rings of Saturn.
What are your thoughts on these stunning pictures taken by the Cassini spacecraft? Do you think the Huygens probe will find any microbial life on Titan? What will Cassini find on Enceladus? Maybe the woman on Mars will not be alone in the solar system.
[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute]