The Cassini mission to the Saturnian system is drawing to a close, but the spacecraft still had enough pluck to send a postcard back to its home planet featuring a image of Earth shot from between Saturn's rings.
The NASA Cassini spacecraft is running low on fuel as it has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. Kicking off with a final Titan flyby this weekend, the spacecraft will perform 22 weeks of dramatic dives into the never-explored region between the planet and the rings, beaming scientific data back to Earth throughout.
The Cassini probe will soon run out of fuel and is now planned to be destroyed by diving it into the Saturn's atmosphere on September 15. On April 12, Cassini captured the jaw-dropping image of Earth from 870 million miles away and through the the rings of Saturn. Although far too small to be visible in the image, the part of Earth facing Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean. This undated photo made available by NASA shows one of Saturn's moons, Mimas, dwarfed by the planet's rings.
Mission controllers actually turned off Voyager's camera soon after the pale blue dot image was taken, shutting its eye on the solar system as it sped away from us toward interstellar space.
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Space probe Cassini will bravely go where no spacecraft has gone before - bringing an end to its incredible 20-year-mission. Cassini's fuel tank is nearly empty, so NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale. The recent discovery of this process on Enceladus gives strong indications of the presence of the primary ingredients needed for life to exist on Saturn's moon. Cassini recorded what appeared to be images of islands appearing and then disappearing in Ligeia Mare.
The other major outstanding question is the age of Saturn's rings. The probe will plunge beneath the rings and through the gap separating Saturn from its innermost ring. The crash was planned by NASA in order to avoid contaminating Saturn's moons, locations that are believed to be harboring alien life.
"We're also going to get a better idea of the interior structure because we'll be getting closer to Saturn than we've ever been", Cable said.
The space probe will eventually carry out a self-destruction maneuver by diving into the planet's atmosphere on September 15, when it will beam its last batch of pictures. "If Cassini can measure the total mass of the rings, this will help us understand how the rings formed and how long they've been around".