Cassini beginning the Grand Finale stage- taking many pictures of the rings! Image credit: NASA Cassini

Cassini beginning the Grand Finale stage- taking many pictures of the rings! Image credit: NASA Cassini

The Cassini spacecraft has long since been THE SATURN SPACECRAFT. All those beautiful pictures of rings, unknown and tiny moons, and of course, Titan and Enceladus galore!

Alas, the Cassini spacecraft is at its Grand Finale- thrusters are going to push it into the atmosphere of Saturn- giving us our first (and hopefully not the last) look at Saturnian cloud structures and chemistry. In September 2017, it will make its plunge. 

So let's take a look at the fantastic feats of Cassini through the years!

1-Cassini launched its side-partner probe, Huygens, on a fantastic dive into Titan's atmosphere and land on the surface. The funny part is that we didn't know what Titan's surface was made out of- so we built the underside of Huygens like a boat- smooth and rounded- just in case it landed on liquid. Unfortunately it missed the lakes, but it did give us a close up on the blocky ice and methane-rich surface of Titan!

2-The Cassini spacecraft has several instruments, including one for monitoring radio wave emissions from the planet and rings. The sounds out of Saturn are very eerie and even small lightning storms on Saturn have made an appearance! Here's the link to listen to some of Cassini's sound bits: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia07966.html

3-The very small moons, Atlas and Pan, (which are only 16-20 miles big) were first imaged by Cassini. What we saw were incredibly distorted and squished "ravioli-like" moons! 

4-Shepherd moons and their chaotic nature in between the rings have caused quite a stir with physicists! These tiny moons will keep scientific modeling busy for a while!

5-And finally, Enceladus and the continuous vapor plumes of the southern pole! These images from Cassini have given us so much data for modeling the plumes and possible hydro-thermal venting underneath the mysterious icy crust!

Pan- the "ravioli moon" of Saturn imaged in April 2017! Image credit: NASA Cassini.

Pan- the "ravioli moon" of Saturn imaged in April 2017! Image credit: NASA Cassini.

Thank you for reading and read along next week at Sputnik Planum of Pluto- mysteries up close!