Cassini has completed its second-to-last ring plane crossing. There’s only one more left before the final and fatal atmospheric entry. But before it goes, Cassini completed a sort of family scrapbook of the solar system, by adding Neptune. Here are some highlights of Cassini’s solar system scrapbook (which skips Mercury because it’s far too close to the Sun for Cassini to photograph):
Venus, Earth, and Mars
Venus, Earth and Mars, the only rocky planets easily observable from Saturn, as seen during the equivalent of a total solar eclipse around Saturn — Saturn is backlit by the Sun here. This was captured July 19, 2013.
Earth (and Moon), closeup from last image
This is a mega huge zoom in on the picture above.
Captured just before an Earth gravity assist maneuver, this is the Moon as seen on August 17, 1999. The spacecraft did not attempt to photograph the Earth during closest approach.
It’s worth also adding this. It’s the last image Cassini will ever take of Earth, captured April 12, 2017.
This was captured on December 29, 2000, while Cassini was grabbing a gravity assist boost from the giant planet.
There’s really no end of good Saturn pics, but I quite like this one, taken last year as Saturn approached the summer solstice in its northern hemisphere.
This blue planet against Saturn’s rings is not Earth. That little blue dot is the larger of the two “ice giants”, Uranus. I sincerely hope this is not the closest we’ll get to it in the 21st Century; it’s an astonishingly bizarre world that would seriously test a lot of basic science about planetary formation, magnetospheres, and so forth. This was captured April 11, 2014.
This is the most recent addition to the scrapbook, a zoom-in enhanced version of an image taken Aug. 10, 2017, commemorating Voyager 2’s flyby on August 25, 1989 and the 40th anniversary of the mission’s launch on August 20, 1977. This is Neptune and its largest moon, Triton.
Call it a consolation for not nabbing Mercury; Cassini captured this image of the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015, just as New Horizons was making its closest approach. (Naturally, New Horizons got much better pictures!)
It’s bittersweet, waiting for the end, but it helps to remember the amazing things Cassini has been doing. Like Voyager 1 before it, Cassini is leaving behind portraits of our solar system.