NASA’s Cassini spacecraft may have since crash-landed into Saturn’s atmosphere, ending a two-decade assignment that brought home a multitude of scientific findings, photos, and videos related to our solar system’s ringed planet. But the heritage of Cassini has continued to live on, as NASA released on Wednesday a photo of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, emerging half-lit with the world’s rings in the background.
Unlike some recent reports, even the newly-released photo wasn’t taken “soon before” Cassini’s “grand finale,” but rather six decades ago, well before the assignment ended. A report from Space.com said that the photo of Enceladus was taken on November 6, 2011 using the Cassini spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera, even since the moon looked at visible light from approximately 90,000 miles (145,000 km) away. And while Saturn’s rings were evident in the pictures, there was also an extremely tiny white dot at the background, which NASA clarified was a remote, unidentified star.
According to NASA’s official Enceladus page, scientists had long known that Enceladus was a brightly-shining, freezing thing, using an unknown connection to Saturn’s “strawberry ring” Due to the Cassini mission, the icy material in the E ring has been found to come from vents attached to an underground saltwater sea in Enceladus, where “geyser-like jets” discharge water vapor and ice particles. As the moon has a global sea, internal heating, and an odd atmospheric chemistry, Enceladus continues to be regarded as a “promising lead” in the continuing search for different planets and worlds that may possibly support life.
Beneath its icy exterior shell, Saturn’s moon Enceladus hides a global ocean of liquid water. This 2011 view reveals a plume of water ice particles & more spewing from the moon’s south pole, backdropped from Saturn’s rings bright brightly: https://t.co/eK56NiccUWpic.twitter.com/ewJ3BokpGJ
— NASA (@NASA) December 27, 2017
The Cassini spacecraft’s “grand finale” took place on September 15, 2017, right around the time that the craft had used up its gas following 13 years exploring Saturn and its moons. By diving into Saturn’s atmosphere and theoretically melting in mere moments, as Newsweek described it, the event marked the conclusion of an era for NASA, although maybe not the last time that the space agency would launch findings and media from the historic mission.
As noted by the Daily Mail, the new photo of Saturn’s moon Enceladus is only one of many photos from the Cassini mission that were released following the “grand finale.” These include a set of “d***h shots” that were especially taken from the Cassini spacecraft mere days before it crashed into Saturn. A NASA press launch clarified that these photos were taken by the craft of front-facing camera September 13, 2017, also included pictures of Saturn, its rings, and some of its moons to offer “one last, lingering look” in the ringed planet through the eyes of Cassini.