For the simple reason that the Earth is closer to the Sun than Saturn, humans can only observe the day side of Saturn even with the more powerful telescopes on Earth or in orbit around our planet. Probes, such as the Cassini mission by NASA, ESA and ASI allow researchers to image Saturn from the far side, as well as capture data using the various scientific instruments on board. Till another mission is sent to Saturn, the observations and images captured by Cassini will be the last close up data set of Saturn available to scientists.
The image was captured on 7 June 2017 using the wide angle camera on board. The spacecraft was at a distance of about 1.21 million kilometers from the gas giant when the image was captured. Cassini was looking towards the Sun lit side of the rings from about seven degrees above the plane of the rings. After the end of the Cassini mission, NASA has released an image of a Sun lit crescent on Enceladus, as well as the final observations of the Yin-Yang moon, Iapetus.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft ended was concluded in September 2015 after studying the gas giant for thirteen years. There was not enough fuel on board for the ground stations to maintain control of the spacecraft, and there was a possibility that Cassini could drift into one of the moons of Saturn. Some of these moons, including Enceladus and Titan may harbour life.
Hardy microbes piggybacking on Cassini could have created havoc in these alien ecosystems, which is why Cassini ended its mission with a fiery plunge into the Saturnian atmosphere. Although the spacecraft has become one with the planet that it studied for so long, the observations and images captured by the spacecraft is expected to continue to provide data for scientific studies for decades into the future.
Published Date: Oct 03, 2017 02:58 pm | Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 03:02 pm