These are Some of the Closest Ever Images of Saturn that Cassini Ever Captured, And They're Incredible

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NASA's Cassini probe is plunging to its death. The nuclear-powered spacecraft has orbited Saturn for 13 years, and sent back hundreds of thousands of images. The photos include close-ups of the gaseous giant, its famous rings, and its enigmatic moons - including Titan, which has its own atmosphere, and icy Enceladus, which has a subsurface ocean that could conceivably harbour microbial life.

To prevent Cassini from crashing into and contaminating any of those hidden oceans, the space agency has directed the craft, which is running out of fuel, onto a crash course with Saturn.

The first of the probe's final five orbits took it between the rings and the planet itself. Data from that fly-by is being sent back to NASA today.
Above is an artist's view of what Cassini might see during its final plunge into the clouds of Saturn.


On Monday, the space probe conducted the first of its final five orbits around the planet, dipping into Saturn's atmosphere, according to NASA. It's all part of the "Grand Finale" for the US$3.26-billion, 20-year mission, which will end on September 15 as the spacecraft dives to its demise and burns up like a meteor.

“As it makes these five dips into Saturn, followed by its final plunge, Cassini will become the first Saturn atmospheric probe. It's long been a goal in planetary exploration to send a dedicated probe into the atmosphere of Saturn, and we're laying the groundwork for future exploration with this first foray.” Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL, said in a press release.

These last passes will reveal new data about Saturn, its atmosphere and clouds, the materials making up its rings, and the mysterious gravity and magnetic fieldsof the gas planet.

“It's Cassini's blaze of glory. It will be doing science until the very last second.” Spilker previously told Business Insider.

Here's what the probe's final spiral is revealing so far.

Gravity from Titan, Saturn's planet-sized moon, plays a key role in Cassini's final orbits. NASA is using the force to bend Cassini's course, a task that would otherwise require large amounts of fuel.

nasa is using the force to bend cassinis course
Above is an artist rendering of NASA's Cassini spacecraft observing a sunset through the hazy atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. 

These two views of Titan show the new details about the moon's surface - including clouds and hazes in its atmosphere - that Cassini has revealed:

these two views of titan show the new details about the moons surface
They were acquired on March 21, 2017, and published by NASA on August 11.

The first of the probe's final five orbits took it between the rings and the planet itself. Data from that fly-by is being sent back to NASA today.

NASA hopes this closest-ever brush with Saturn will reveal new components of its atmosphere, which is believed to be about 75 percent hydrogen, with most of the rest being helium.

nasa hopes this closest ever brush with saturn will reveal new components of its atmosphere
The false-color image above was taken with Cassini's narrow-angle camera on May 18, 2017, from a distance of approximately 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometres). 

The clouds on Saturn look like strokes from a cosmic brush because of the wavy way that fluids interact in Saturn's atmosphere.

So far, scientists have been unable to discern any tilt between Saturn's magnetic field and its rotation axis. That contradicts our understanding of magnetic fields, and makes it impossible to know exactly how long Saturn's days are.

cassini close up of rings
This is a close-up of the rings of Saturn as seen by Cassini. 

Before getting to the Grand Finale stage, Cassini was able to capture this view of Saturn's moon Prometheus inside Saturn's F ring:


saturns moon prometheus inside saturns f ring
The Cassini spacecraft used its narrow-angle camera to take this image using
visible light on May 13, 2017.


Many of the narrow F ring's faint and wispy features result from its gravitational interactions with Prometheus, which is 53 miles (86 kilometres) across. On its next dip into Saturn's atmosphere on August 20, Cassini may be able to go even deeper. It could see the planet's northern aurora and measure the temperature of Saturn's southern polar vortex.


cassini may be able to go even deeper
The view above is a false-color composite made using images taken in red, green 
and ultraviolet spectral filters. 

The images were obtained using Cassini's narrow-angle camera on July 16, 2017, at a distance of about 777,000 miles (1.25 million km). To capture the image above, Cassini gazed toward the rings beyond Saturn's sunlit horizon. Along the limb (the planet's edge) at left can be seen a thin, detached haze. This haze vanishes toward the right side of the scene.

On its last dives through the rings, Cassini will also be able to analyse samples of Saturn's rings on its last dives. That will help scientists figure out how dense they are and better understand what they're made of.

on its last dives through the rings cassini will also be able to analyze samples
Cassini's wide-angle camera took the image above on Feb. 25, 2017. 

In the photo, the light of a new day on Saturn illuminates the planet's wavy cloud patterns and the smooth arcs of its vast rings. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 10 degrees above their plane.
Cassini will need to use Titan's gravity again on September 11 to help direct its final plunge, which will happen on September 15.

cassini will need to use titans gravity again on september 11
The Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera captured this image of Titan on May 29, 2017.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft looks toward the night side of Saturn's moon Titan in a view that highlights the extended, hazy nature of the moon's atmosphere. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometres) from Titan.

Via [ScienceAlert, Business Insider]

Astronomy

Cassini Mission

Saturn

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45 comments:

  1. please don't say 'incredible images from Saturn' and then advertise for it with paintings. Are the incredible images not incredible enough after all? most of your clueless readers will overlook the tiny words 'artist rendering' and think they are photos

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    1. But but but why ?

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    2. To your point, I also don't enjoy 'false-color' notes of images as well.

      If anything, I'd say place the false-color photos beside the 'real' monochrome photos.

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    3. veloopity - Don't be such a little bitch

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    4. hazor777 - I appreciate your intelligent discussion of the matter.

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    5. only 2 are artistic renders, the rest are real pictures. " False colors" indicates a normal procedure that helps to have clearer images and they aren't made with photoshop from scratch, just compositions of real images from different cameras. Judging space pictures when being barely able to read is rather silly.

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    6. "false color" means they sexed up the images with photoshop. cause if they didn't do that the images would look incredibly boring.

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    7. And here I was thinking that false color meant they manipulated the color bands from the collection platform of the initial images in order to isolate minute changes and differences in the visual presentation of the digital date. Learn something new everyday...

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    8. Derrick, you ignorant dimwit. It is literally explained there what the false colors are - not "sexed on photoshop", but composed from different monochrome shots, some of which pick up light waves your eyes can't fucking see. If you can't understand what is the difference (which seems likely since you can't even read the whole text and get what it meant), that is your own problem.

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    9. veloopity speaks the truth. people are only intrigued in what's fake and fantasy. every time I see these kind of news, it's never mind-blowing because it's always an artist's rendering... clickbait.... clickbait everywhere

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    10. I remember when you'd wait months to get this info, and it would be from a fancy magazine you would pay real $$$ to subscribe to. Or else make a trip to the library. If there are a few artist renderings mixed with the real photos, I won't wine. Not at this price. Not when it's before it actually happens.

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    12. Alex, *Whine-complaining, wine- a fermented drink

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    13. I caught this too. Very disappointing.

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    14. Holy crap. Does absolutely no one understand "false-color" imagery? The camera has various color filters by which they can calculate the color values to a very accurate degree. It is not as if they say, "Hey... this area could benefit from a big streak of yellow!", by random. Learn about what you are talking about before you go complaining about it.

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    15. Even worse when the headline is "THESE ARE SOME OF THE CLOSEST EVER IMAGES OF SATURN THAT CASSINI EVER CAPTURED, AND THEY'RE INCREDIBLE" This shit is clickbait.

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  2. +1 to hazor's reply. There were some legit images, so it was better than a lot of these kinds of articles.

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  3. This website should do better than clickbait with artist renderings.

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  4. For those complaining about the artist's rendering... I agree. Not to say it's not a great image, or that it will or will not be completely off... but the ad that got many of us here from FB is wildly misleading, suggesting that it was an image from Cassini and instead giving us an artist's work. The rest of the images made up for it, but it's still irksome.

    For those complaining about the false-color images, I think you misinterpret what "false-color" images are. Many of the pictures we get from our satellites are not images as you or I normally think of them. In fact, a lot of schools even have labs showing how it works (I graduated high school in 2000, and even my backwards-tech school had a lab in my 1999 advanced sciences class on producing satellite images). See, the images come in from the probe/satellite as nothing but data. Kinda like a GIF or meta-image on the computer, it's not an actual light-image so much as a representation of that image in code. Then the tech or software takes that data and applies color like a massive color-by-numbers project. That's a false-color image. It doesn't mean that you're seeing in green what's really red in real life... it means that the Cassini saw it as 0x084h43, and it's coming up green (not actual hex value for green, just using arbitrary numbers to make a point, fellow nerds). The reason for this is because it is so much more efficient! Sending the image as raw numerical data rather than a graphical representation would take so much more tech & resources, and would have massively increased the cost of the project, and to no real purpose... false color images come out more crisp than the tech of the satellite would be able to provide anyway.

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    1. " The reason for this is because it is so much more efficient! Sending the image as raw numerical data rather than a graphical representation would take so much more tech & resources, and would have massively increased the cost of the project, and to no real purpose"

      That is incorrect. All computer images are literally just numerical data, no more no less. And raw data takes more than most image related computer file formats (like the RAW files from a camera vs a JPGE image). That is incorrect and not the reason, they are after as much data as possible, not pretty pictures, so they don't care if the format is large as long as it is as accurate as possible given the technical limitations - they always push these things to their limit, milking every penny put into the thing as much as they can.

      The reasons are different. The first is that some of that data is of lightwaves you can't see (such as infrared and ultraviolet). So you need to transform each of those data points to fit the visible spectrum so you can actually display the image for a human to see, otherwise you couldn't visualize it (and your screen couldn't render it even if it tried). The "second" is a bunch of technical reasons, but long story short. The thing is in constant movement, so there is only a small window to take pictures from any given angle, even less for repeat shots, so they have to chose between spending time trying to capture "true color" (to the human eye) or take more scientifically relevant readings. They almost if not always chose the latter. A regular camera shot gives you limited data to work with and has lots of noise in each spectrum, while specialized shots with different filters (e.g. a red, a green and an infrared one) gives you more raw data that is relevant to do actual science on them, while still allowing you to compose it as a visible image that is good enough for human visualization (even though the act of composing might lead to some discrepancy between what you would see with your naked eye, hence why it is called false color even though it is composed from exact data from each color spectrum - pretty pictures aren't their goal anyway, so it is an acceptable loss).

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    2. Thanks for the correction, Anon. :)

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    3. These explanations are more interesting than the article!

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  5. It would have been nice if the pictures were real.

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  6. @unknown - You are close but not quite accurate. First, all digital images are composed of what appears to be gibberish to most everyone. It is actually encoded color values, whether hex or binary and can be compressed into larger areas of similar areas to save space. Open any GIF/JPG/PNG file in a text viewer to see.

    False-color images are images captured with cameras that are not in the visible light spectrum. Think of a Flir (thermal) camera. The image sensor returns a monochromatic image where the brightness of each pixel is proportional to temperature. Then, the software applies color to different groups of brightness levels so we [the user] can easily differentiate the relative temperature.
    In the body of the text, it says the image is a composite of red/green and UV cameras. The red and green components create a yellow image (red + green light = yellow light) but since we cannot see the UV spectrum, it also represents some interesting information but not intuitively usable by us and composited in as white, thus the false-color.


    FUN FACT: on average Humans can only distinguish 30 shades of gray
    Glover D. M., Jenkins W. J., Doney S. C. 2011 Scientific visualization. In Modeling methods for marine science, p. 398. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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    1. I can distinguish more than 256 shades of gray, even in a successive band. I do not believe my visual acuity is all that remarkable, either. Having worked with greyscale digital images for decades, since back when 8bit was the standard for everything, I know this for certain, and can very clearly see the value in color depths higher than 24bit (8,8,8 RGB).

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    2. Then have we got a sub-Reddit for you!

      https://www.reddit.com/r/iamverysmart/

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    3. Like I said, it is just an average but 256 would be outstanding! Try this quiz: http://time.com/4663496/can-you-actually-see-50-different-shades-of-grey/ I scored 32

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    4. Our newest x-ray techniques actually achieve faster imaging by cutting down the color resolution-- from 256 down to 48. People cannot distinguish 256 shades well enough to make a statistically significant difference, at least in medicine.

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  7. Cassini Narrow angle camera pic of the rings 4 pics above shows a UFO? Am I among fools that do not see it? Helllooo.

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    1. The caption identifies it as a moon.

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    2. Somebody hasn't actually read the article it seems *eye rolls*

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  8. Truly a reflective cross section here. Misleading headlines used to draw folk towards this site. Meaningful retorts and darts, amounting to personal attack. Division between folk, caused in a heart beat.

    And we wonder why the world continues to go crazy.

    I always find it incredibly sad to watch the spread of click-bait headlines being used more and more often. From your own website "No click baits, no false NEWS Just Real Science ". Sad just really sad. You take, only from yourselves, when you do this.

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  9. Usman Abrar, thank you for the article an the actual images from Cassini. I enjoyed those. Your strategy to draw me here, I did not.

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  10. Ditto everyone here, using "artists impressions" when actual images exist is pathetic and misleading.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Of all the images above, only one says it's an artist's rendering. WTF people!! Clearly the image of Cassini itself is a rendering as I doubt they equipped the probe with a selfie stick!!

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  13. WHY CANT YOU USE THIS TECHNOLOGY AND GET SOME PICS OF THE MOON LANDING...OR OUR OWN PLANET...?..HOW DUMB DO YOU THINK WE ARE...PEOPLE ARE WAKING UP...SLOWLY THO...

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    1. Photos of earth with resolution of less than half a meter were available since the 1980s.

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  14. Any ideas on the effect of Cassini "meteor" like "crash" into 75% hydrogen atmosphere?

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    1. If you're think a big boom, there's no Oxygen...

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  15. As numerous others have already said, WHAT'S WITH THE ARTIST RENDERINGS???
    Sooooo effin' sick and tired of wanting to see an article with real images, and then the best image I've ever seen turns out to be not an actual anything except some concocted piece of art. If I want images of exotic worlds that are beyond real, I'll just read some sci-fi thanks.

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  16. Quite the controversy here in the comments. I am just proud that I was able to work on Cassini back in I think 1996 while at TRW. I am also so sad that there most likely will never be any more probes of this magnitude because our couuntry would rather give freebies to those who are unwilling to contribute to the better of all of us...

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  17. If you DO use artist renderings, could you please for the love of god tell us WHO MADE THEM? Who is this artist? Aside from the discussion of whether or not this image belongs here, it is a very good rendering and deserves credit.

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