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.
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.
This Dec. 3, 2015 image made available by NASA shows three of Saturn's moons - Tethys, above, Enceladus, second left, and Mimas, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Dec. 3, 2015 image made available by NASA shows three of Saturn's moons - Tethys, above, Enceladus, second left, and Mimas, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This July 19, 2013 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's rings and planet Earth, center right, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This July 19, 2013 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's rings and planet Earth, center right, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Aug. 11, 2013 image made available by NASA shows Saturn and one if its moons, Titan, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Aug. 11, 2013 image made available by NASA shows Saturn and one if its moons, Titan, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Nov. 13, 2015 composite image made available by NASA shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon, Titan, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft.
This Nov. 13, 2015 composite image made available by NASA shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon, Titan, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft.
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.
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.
This Jan. 10, 2012 image made available by NASA shows Saturn and one of its moons, Tethys, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Jan. 10, 2012 image made available by NASA shows Saturn and one of its moons, Tethys, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Jan. 28, 2016 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's rings, including the darker series of bands called the Cassini Division between the bright B ring, left, and dimmer A ring, right. It is almost as wide as the planet Mercury.
This Jan. 28, 2016 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's rings, including the darker series of bands called the Cassini Division between the bright B ring, left, and dimmer A ring, right. It is almost as wide as the planet Mercury.
This Jan. 16, 2017 image made available by NASA shows one of Saturn's moons, Daphnis, as it grazes the outer edges of the planet's rings.
This Jan. 16, 2017 image made available by NASA shows one of Saturn's moons, Daphnis, as it grazes the outer edges of the planet's rings.
This Feb. 17, 2005 image made available by NASA shows plumes of water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus.
This Feb. 17, 2005 image made available by NASA shows plumes of water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus.
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.
This Dec. 3, 2015 image made available by NASA shows three of Saturn's moons - Tethys, above, Enceladus, second left, and Mimas, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This July 19, 2013 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's rings and planet Earth, center right, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Aug. 11, 2013 image made available by NASA shows Saturn and one if its moons, Titan, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Nov. 13, 2015 composite image made available by NASA shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon, Titan, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft.
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.
This Jan. 10, 2012 image made available by NASA shows Saturn and one of its moons, Tethys, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
This Jan. 28, 2016 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's rings, including the darker series of bands called the Cassini Division between the bright B ring, left, and dimmer A ring, right. It is almost as wide as the planet Mercury.
This Jan. 16, 2017 image made available by NASA shows one of Saturn's moons, Daphnis, as it grazes the outer edges of the planet's rings.
This Feb. 17, 2005 image made available by NASA shows plumes of water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Science

Cassini Spacecraft's Amazing Photos Of Saturn, Rings & Moons

Associated Press |

Until Cassini's arrival at Saturn in 2004, humanity had never viewed Saturn up close and personal.

In all, Cassini has provided more than 453,000 pictures of Saturn, its rings, and moons. The final snapshots will be coming down hours before the spacecraft's fiery finish on Friday. Cassini will burn up like a meteor in Saturn's sky.

"These final images are sort of like taking a last look around your house or apartment just before you move out," said project scientist Linda Spilker of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "You walk around the downstairs, as you go upstairs, you run your fingers along the banister, you look at your old room and memories across the years come flooding back.

"And in the same way, Cassini is taking a last look around the Saturn system, Cassini's home for the last 13 years. And with those pictures come heartwarming memories."

The final targets — all repeats — include big moon Titan and little moon Enceladus, one or both of them potentially harboring life; tiny moonlets embedded in Saturn's rings; and one final color montage of Saturn and its rings.

No photos will be taken during Cassini's final plunge through Saturn's atmosphere. Instead, scientific instruments will sample the atmosphere and send back the data until the spacecraft goes out of control and its antenna no longer points toward Earth.

Telescopes on the ground — nearly a billion miles away — will attempt to capture the cosmic flash. But nothing will be close enough to fully record Cassini's demise.

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