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Starts With A Bang

Cassini prepares for its final, suicidal mission

After nearly 20 years in orbit around Saturn, Cassini prepares to say goodbye.

“All the atoms of our bodies will be blown into space in the disintegration of the solar system, to live on forever as mass or energy.” –Carolyn Porco

In 1997, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was launched for a journey to Saturn, where it would study our Solar System’s ringed world as never before.

Visible and radio images of Saturn’s rings and their structure, as delivered by Cassini. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

It delivered beyond our wildest expectations, presenting breathtaking new views of the least dense planet known.

Saturn in eclipse, perhaps the most stunning image of the planet ever taken. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

It viewed Saturn in eclipse, discovering two new, outer rings in the process.

An infrared view of Saturn, along with its ring’s shadows on the planet’s atmosphere. Image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

Its infrared eyes viewed Saturn’s hazes beneath the top-level clouds.

A false-color image highlighting Saturn’s hurricane over its north pole, inside the much larger hexagon-shaped feature. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.

The north pole of Saturn was found to possess a strange hexagonal storm, thought to be stable over century-long timescales.

Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) image of Titan taken at 2km altitude during the descent. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The Huygens probe released by it descended onto Titan, its largest moon, discovering an incredible landscape, liquid methane lakes and even waterfalls.

Iapetus, the second Saturn moon ever discovered, as imaged by Cassini. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute / Cassini.

The mystery of Iapetus, its two-toned moon, was solved as well: dark material from the captured comet, Phoebe, causes the ice on one side to sublimate and settle on the other.

The captured Kuiper Belt object, Phoebe, now one of Saturn’s moons. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Enceladus, an icy, outer moon, was found to contain a subsurface water-ice ocean, which erupts in spectacular geysers.

This is a false-color image of jets (blue areas) in the southern hemisphere of Enceladus taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2005. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

The rings were determined to be made up of 99.9% water-ice, and are at least hundreds of millions of years old.

One of Saturn’s small moons passing in its orbit through a gap in the rings. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

And finally, it discovered and viewed the largest storm in the Solar System’s known history: 2011′s Saturnian hurricane.

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute, of the great storm’s evolution over a period of 8 months.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object in visuals, images and video in no more than 200 words. Cassini will end its mission in 2017 by crashing into Saturn, thereby avoiding any possible contamination of moons with organics on them.

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