New Cassini Image Shows Earth and Moon between Saturn's Rings

Camille Francis
April 25, 2017

Scientists involved with Cassini's radar investigation will look at their last set of radar images of the hydrocarbon seas and lakes across the north polar region of Titan this week. The spacecraft, which has been studying the Saturn system since 2004, will start its Grand Finale mission Wednesday and end it by plunging into the planet's atmosphere September 15.

Aside from planet Earth, the spacecraft also photographed the moon.

This view from NASA's Cassini orbiter shows Earth and its only natural satellite as points of light between the icy rings of the gas giant Saturn.

"Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come", said mission project scientist Linda Spilker, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"15 no matter what", said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL.

NASA plans to crash the spacecraft into Saturn to avoid any chance Cassini could someday collide with Titan, the ocean-bearing moon Enceladus or any other moon that has the potential to support indigenous microbial life.

"I think it is too early to eulogize Cassini on the occasion of its death, as incineration is five months away", Jonathan Lunine, director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science and a longtime member of the Cassini mission team, told USA Today.

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However, Cassini did not only make a Titan flyby.

After buzzing Titan, Cassini coasted onward, reaching the farthest point in its orbital path around Saturn at 8:46pm PDT (10:46pm CDT) on April 22nd. Cassini now begins one last campaign....

Cassini-Huygens will also map the planet's gravity and its magnetic fields as it enters the Saturn's surface and the scientist hoping that the space probe can provide important insights while the interior is rotating so fast.

The spacecraft's first finale dive will take place on April 26. The spacecraft will be out of contact during the dive and for about a day afterward while it makes science observations from close to the planet.

Cassini captured this view of Earth and the Moon on April 12.

Cassini is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Cassini's fuel is running out, and therefore, the orbiter's work at the ringed planet is nearly done.

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