Category: cassini

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Earth is a dynamic and stormy planet with everything from brief, rumbling thunderstorms to enormous, raging hurricanes, which are some of the most powerful and destructive storms on our world. But other planets also have storm clouds, lightning — even rain, of sorts. Let’s take a tour of some of the unusual storms in our solar system and beyond.

Tune in May 22 at 3 p.m. for more solar system forecasting with NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green during the latest installment of NASA Science Live: https://www.nasa.gov/nasasciencelive.

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1. At Mercury: A Chance of Morning Micrometeoroid Showers and Magnetic ‘Tornadoes’

Mercury, the planet nearest the Sun, is scorching hot, with daytime temperatures of more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit (about 450 degrees Celsius). It also has weak gravity — only about 38% of Earth’s — making it hard for Mercury to hold on to an atmosphere.

Its barely there atmosphere means Mercury doesn’t have dramatic storms, but it does have a strange “weather” pattern of sorts: it’s blasted with micrometeoroids, or tiny dust particles, usually in the morning. It also has magnetic “tornadoes” — twisted bundles of magnetic fields that connect the planet’s magnetic field to space.

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2. At Venus: Earth’s ‘Almost’ Twin is a Hot Mess

Venus is often called Earth’s twin because the two planets are similar in size and structure. But Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, roasting at more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius) under a suffocating blanket of sulfuric acid clouds and a crushing atmosphere. Add to that the fact that Venus has lightning, maybe even more than Earth. 

In visible light, Venus appears bright yellowish-white because of its clouds. Earlier this year, Japanese researchers found a giant streak-like structure in the clouds based on observations by the Akatsuki spacecraft orbiting Venus.

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3. At Earth: Multiple Storm Hazards Likely

Earth has lots of storms, including thunderstorms, blizzards and tornadoes. Tornadoes can pack winds over 300 miles per hour (480 kilometers per hour) and can cause intense localized damage.

But no storms match hurricanes in size and scale of devastation. Hurricanes, also called typhoons or cyclones, can last for days and have strong winds extending outward for 675 miles (1,100 kilometers). They can annihilate coastal areas and cause damage far inland.

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4. At Mars: Hazy with a Chance of Dust Storms

Mars is infamous for intense dust storms, including some that grow to encircle the planet. In 2018, a global dust storm blanketed NASA’s record-setting Opportunity rover, ending the mission after 15 years on the surface.

Mars has a thin atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide. To the human eye, the sky would appear hazy and reddish or butterscotch colored because of all the dust suspended in the air. 

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5. At Jupiter: A Shrinking Icon

It’s one of the best-known storms in the solar system: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. It’s raged for at least 300 years and was once big enough to swallow Earth with room to spare. But it’s been shrinking for a century and a half. Nobody knows for sure, but it’s possible the Great Red Spot could eventually disappear.

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6. At Saturn: A Storm Chasers Paradise

Saturn has one of the most extraordinary atmospheric features in the solar system: a hexagon-shaped cloud pattern at its north pole. The hexagon is a six-sided jet stream with 200-mile-per-hour winds (about 322 kilometers per hour). Each side is a bit wider than Earth and multiple Earths could fit inside. In the middle of the hexagon is what looks like a cosmic belly button, but it’s actually a huge vortex that looks like a hurricane.

Storm chasers would have a field day on Saturn. Part of the southern hemisphere was dubbed “Storm Alley” by scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission because of the frequent storm activity the spacecraft observed there. 

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7. At Titan: Methane Rain and Dust Storms

Earth isn’t the only world in our solar system with bodies of liquid on its surface. Saturn’s moon Titan has rivers, lakes and large seas. It’s the only other world with a cycle of liquids like Earth’s water cycle, with rain falling from clouds, flowing across the surface, filling lakes and seas and evaporating back into the sky. But on Titan, the rain, rivers and seas are made of methane instead of water.

Data from the Cassini spacecraft also revealed what appear to be giant dust storms in Titan’s equatorial regions, making Titan the third solar system body, in addition to Earth and Mars, where dust storms have been observed.

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8. At Uranus: A Polar Storm

Scientists were trying to solve a puzzle about clouds on the ice giant planet: What were they made of? When Voyager 2 flew by in 1986, it spotted few clouds. (This was due in part to the thick haze that envelops the planet, as well as Voyager’s cameras not being designed to peer through the haze in infrared light.) But in 2018, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope snapped an image showing a vast, bright, stormy cloud cap across the north pole of Uranus.

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9. At Neptune: Methane Clouds

Neptune is our solar system’s windiest world. Winds whip clouds of frozen methane across the ice giant planet at speeds of more than 1,200 miles per hour (2,000 kilometers per hour) — about nine times faster than winds on Earth.

Neptune also has huge storm systems. In 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 spotted two giant storms on Neptune as the spacecraft zipped by the planet. Scientists named the storms “The Great Dark Spot” and “Dark Spot 2.”

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10. It’s Not Just Us: Extreme Weather in Another Solar System

Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope made a global map of the glow from a turbulent planet outside our solar system. The observations show the exoplanet, called WASP-43b, is a world of extremes. It has winds that howl at the speed of sound, from a 3,000-degree-Fahrenheit (1,600-degree-Celsius) day side, to a pitch-black night side where temperatures plunge below 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius).

Discovered in 2011, WASP-43b is located 260 light-years away. The planet is too distant to be photographed, but astronomers detected it by observing dips in the light of its parent star as the planet passes in front of it.

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Our solar system was built on impacts — some big, some small — some fast, some slow. This week, in honor of a possible newly-discovered large crater here on Earth, here’s a quick run through of some of the more intriguing impacts across our solar system.

1. Mercury: A Basin Bigger Than Texas

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Mercury does not have a thick atmosphere to protect it from space debris. The small planet is riddled with craters, but none as spectacular as the Caloris Basin. “Basin” is what geologists call craters larger than about 186 miles (300 kilometers) in diameter. Caloris is about 950 miles (1,525 kilometers) across and is ringed by mile-high mountains.

For scale, the state of Texas is 773 miles (1,244 kilometers) wide from east to west.

2. Venus: Tough on Space Rocks

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Venus’ ultra-thick atmosphere finishes off most meteors before they reach the surface. The planet’s volcanic history has erased many of its craters, but like almost any place with solid ground in our solar system, there are still impact scars to be found. Most of what we know of Venus’ craters comes from radar images provided by orbiting spacecraft, such as NASA’s Magellan.

Mead Crater is the largest known impact site on Venus. It is about 170 miles (275 kilometers) in diameter. The relatively-flat, brighter inner floor of the crater indicates it was filled with impact melt and/or lava.

3. Earth: Still Craters After All These Years

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Evidence of really big impacts — such as Arizona’s Meteor Crater — are harder to find on Earth. The impact history of our home world has largely been erased by weather and water or buried under lava, rock or ice. Nonetheless, we still find new giant craters occasionally.

A NASA glaciologist has discovered a possible impact crater buried under more than a mile of ice in northwest Greenland.

This follows the finding, announced in November 2018, of a 19-mile (31-kilometer) wide crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier – the first meteorite impact crater ever discovered under Earth’s ice sheets. 

If the second crater, which has a width of over 22 miles (35 kilometers), is ultimately confirmed as the result of a meteorite impact, it will be the 22nd largest impact crater found on Earth.

4. Moon: Our Cratered Companion

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Want to imagine what Earth might look like without its protective atmosphere, weather, water and other crater-erasing features? Look up at the Moon. The Moon’s pockmarked face offers what may be humanity’s most familiar view of impact craters.

One of the easiest to spot is Tycho, the tight circle and bright, radiating splat are easy slightly off center on the lower-left side of the full moon. Closer views of the 53-mile (85 kilometer)-wide crater from orbiting spacecraft reveal a beautiful central peak, topped with an intriguing boulder that would fill about half of a typical city block.

5. Mars: Still Taking Hits

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Mars has just enough atmosphere to ensure nail-biting spacecraft landings, but not enough to prevent regular hits from falling space rocks. This dark splat on the Martian south pole is less than a year old, having formed between July and September 2018. The two-toned blast pattern tells a geologic story. The larger, lighter-colored blast pattern could be the result of scouring by winds from the impact shockwave on ice. The darker-colored inner blast pattern is because the impactor penetrated the thin ice layer, blasting the dark sand underneath in all directions.

6. Ceres: What Lies Beneath

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The bright spots in Ceres’ Occator crater intrigued the world from the moment the approaching Dawn spacecraft first photographed it in 2015. Closer inspection from orbit revealed the spots to be the most visible example of hundreds of bright, salty deposits that decorate the dwarf planet like a smattering of diamonds. The science behind these bright spots is even more compelling: they are mainly sodium carbonate and ammonium chloride that somehow made their way to the surface in a slushy brine from within or below the crust. Thanks to Dawn, scientists have a better sense of how these reflective areas formed and changed over time — processes indicative of an active, evolving world.

7. Comet Tempel 1: We Did It!

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Scientists have long known we can learn a lot from impact craters — so, in 2005, they made one themselves and watched it happen.

On July 4, 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft trained its instruments on an 816-pound (370-kilogram) copper impactor as it smashed into comet Tempel 1.

One of the more surprising findings: The comet has a loose, “fluffy” structure, held together by gravity and contains a surprising amount of organic compounds that are part of the basic building blocks of life.

8. Mimas: May the 4th Be With You

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Few Star Wars fans — us included — can resist Obi Wan Kenobi’s memorable line “That’s no moon…” when images of Saturn’s moon Mimas pop up on a screen. Despite its Death Star-like appearance, Mimas is most definitely a moon. Our Cassini spacecraft checked, a lot — and the superlaser-looking depression is simply an 81-mile (130-kilometer) wide crater named for the moon’s discoverer, William Herschel.

9. Europa: Say What?

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The Welsh name of this crater on Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa looks like a tongue-twister, but it is easiest pronounced as “pool.” Pwyll is thought to be one of the youngest features we know of on Europa. The bright splat from the impact extends more than 600 miles (about 1,000 kilometers) around the crater, a fresh blanket over rugged, older terrain. “Fresh,” or young, is a relative term in geology; the crater and its rays are likely millions of years old.

10. Show Us Your Greatest Hits

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Got a passion for Stickney, the dominant bowl-shaped crater on one end of Mars’ moon Phobos? Or a fondness for the sponge-like abundance of impacts on Saturn’s battered moon Hyperion (pictured)? There are countless craters to choose from. Share your favorites with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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On Sept. 15, 2017, our Cassini spacecraft ended its epic exploration of Saturn with a planned dive into the planet’s atmosphere–sending back new science to the very last second. The spacecraft is gone, but the science continues!

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New research emerging from the final orbits represents a huge leap forward in our understanding of the Saturn system – especially the mysterious, never-before-explored region between the planet and its rings. Some preconceived ideas are turning out to be wrong while new questions are being raised. How did they form? What holds them in place? What are they made of?

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Six teams of researchers are publishing their work Oct. 5 in the journal Science, based on findings from Cassini’s Grand Finale. That’s when, as the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team steered Cassini spectacularly close to Saturn in 22 orbits before deliberately vaporizing it in a final plunge into the atmosphere in September 2017.

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Knowing Cassini’s days were numbered, its mission team went for gold. The spacecraft flew where it was never designed to fly. For the first time, it probed Saturn’s magnetized environment, flew through icy, rocky ring particles and sniffed the atmosphere in the 1,200-mile-wide (2,000-kilometer-wide) gap between the rings and the cloud tops. Not only did the engineering push the spacecraft to its limits, the new findings illustrate how powerful and agile the instruments were.

Many more Grand Finale science results are to come, but today’s highlights include:

  • Complex organic compounds embedded in water nanograins rain down from Saturn’s rings into its upper atmosphere. Scientists saw water and silicates, but they were surprised to see also methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The composition of organics is different from that found on moon Enceladus – and also different from those on moon Titan, meaning there are at least three distinct reservoirs of organic molecules in the Saturn system.
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  • For the first time, Cassini saw up close how rings interact with the planet and observed inner-ring particles and gases falling directly into the atmosphere. Some particles take on electric charges and spiral along magnetic-field lines, falling into Saturn at higher latitudes – a phenomenon known as “ring rain.” But scientists were surprised to see that others are dragged quickly into Saturn at the equator. And it’s all falling out of the rings faster than scientists thought – as much as 10,000 kg of material per second.
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  • Scientists were surprised to see what the material looks like in the gap between the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere. They knew that the particles throughout the rings ranged from large to small. They thought material in the gap would look the same. But the sampling showed mostly tiny, nanograin- and micron-sized particles, like smoke, telling us that some yet-unknown process is grinding up particles. What could it be? Future research into the final bits of data sent by Cassini may hold the answer.
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  • Saturn and its rings are even more interconnected than scientists thought. Cassini revealed a previously unknown electric current system that connects the rings to the top of Saturn’s atmosphere.
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  • Scientists discovered a new radiation belt around Saturn, close to the planet and composed of energetic particles. They found that while the belt actually intersects with the innermost ring, the ring is so tenuous that it doesn’t block the belt from forming.
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  • Unlike every other planet with a magnetic field in our Solar System, Saturn’s magnetic field is almost completely aligned with its spin axis. Think of the planet and the magnetic field as completely separate things that are both spinning. Both have the same center point, but they each have their own axis about which they spin. But for Saturn the two axes are essentially the same – no other planet does that, and we did not think it was even possible for this to happen. This new data shows a magnetic-field tilt of less than 0.0095 degrees. (Earth’s magnetic field is tilted 11 degrees from its spin axis.) According to everything scientists know about how planetary magnetic fields are generated, Saturn should not have one. It’s a mystery physicists will be working to solve.
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  • Cassini flew above Saturn’s magnetic poles, directly sampling regions where radio emissions are generated. The findings more than doubled the number of reported crossings of radio sources from the planet, one of the few non-terrestrial locations where scientists have been able to study a mechanism believed to operate throughout the universe. How are these signals generated? That’s still a mystery researchers are looking to uncover.

For the Cassini mission, the science rolling out from Grand Finale orbits confirms that the calculated risk of diving into the gap – skimming the upper atmosphere and skirting the edge of the inner rings – was worthwhile.

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Almost everything going on in that region turned out to be a surprise, which was the importance of going there, to explore a place we’d never been before. And the expedition really paid off!

Analysis of Cassini data from the spacecraft’s instruments will be ongoing for years to come, helping to paint a clearer picture of Saturn.

To read the papers published in Science, visit: URL to papers

To learn more about the ground-breaking Cassini mission and its 13 years at Saturn, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/main/index.html

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One year ago, on Sept. 15, 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ended
its epic exploration of Saturn with a planned dive into the planet’s
atmosphere–sending back new science to the last second. The spacecraft is
gone, but the science continues. Here are 10 reasons why Cassini mattered…

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1.
Game Changers

Cassini and ESA (European Space Agency)’s Huygens probe expanded our understanding of the
kinds of worlds where life might exist.

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2. A (Little) Like Home

At Saturn’s largest moon,
Titan, Cassini and Huygens showed us one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve
ever encountered, with weather, climate and geology that provide new ways to
understand our home planet.

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3. A Time Machine (In a Sense)

Cassini gave us a portal to see the physical processes that likely
shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around
other stars.

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4. The Long Run

The length of Cassini’s mission enabled us to observe weather and
seasonal changes over nearly half of a Saturn year, improving our understanding
of similar processes at Earth, and potentially those at planets around other
stars.

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5. Big Science in Small Places

Cassini revealed Saturn’s moons to be unique worlds with their own
stories to tell.

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6. Ringscape

Cassini showed us the complexity of Saturn’s rings and the
dramatic processes operating within them.

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7. Pure Exploration

Some of Cassini’s best discoveries were serendipitous. What
Cassini found at Saturn prompted scientists to rethink their understanding of
the solar system.

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8. The Right Tools for the Job

Cassini represented a staggering achievement of human and
technical complexity, finding innovative ways to use the spacecraft and its
instruments, and paving the way for future missions to explore our solar
system.

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9. Jewel of the Solar System

Cassini revealed the beauty of Saturn, its rings and moons,
inspiring our sense of wonder and enriching our sense of place in the cosmos.

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10. Much Still to Teach Us

The data returned by Cassini during its 13 years at Saturn will
continue to be studied for decades, and many new discoveries are undoubtedly
waiting to be revealed. To keep pace with what’s to come, we’ve created a new
home for the mission–and its spectacular images–at https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/cassini.

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sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

An artist rendition of Cassini’s final plunge.

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Soaring to the depths of our universe, gallant spacecraft roam the cosmos, snapping images of celestial wonders. Some spacecraft have instruments capable of capturing radio emissions. When scientists convert these to sound waves, the results are eerie to hear.

In time for Halloween, we’ve put together a compilation of elusive “sounds” of howling planets and whistling helium that is sure to make your skin crawl.

Listen to a few here and visit our Soundcloud for more spooky sounds. 

Cassini Ring Crossing

This eerie audio represents data collected by our Cassini spacecraft, as it crossed through the gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017, during the first dive of the mission’s Grand Finale. The instrument is able to record ring particles striking the spacecraft in its data. In the data from this dive, there is virtually no detectable peak in pops and cracks that represent ring particles striking the spacecraft. The lack of discernible pops and cracks indicates the region is largely free of small particles. 

Voyager Tsunami Waves in Interstellar Space 

Listen to this howling audio from our Voyager 1 spacecraft. Voyager 1 has experienced three “tsunami waves” in interstellar space. This kind of wave occurs as a result of a coronal mass ejection erupting from the Sun. The most recent tsunami wave that Voyager experienced began in February 2014, and may still be going. Listen to how these waves cause surrounding ionized matter to ring like a bell.

Voyager Sounds of Interstellar Space

Our Voyager 1 spacecraft captured these high-pitched, spooky sounds of interstellar space from October to November 2012 and April to May 2013.

The soundtrack reproduces the amplitude and frequency of the plasma waves as “heard” by Voyager 1. The waves detected by the instrument antennas can be simply amplified and played through a speaker. These frequencies are within the range heard by human ears.

When scientists extrapolated this line even further back in time (not shown), they deduced that Voyager 1 first encountered interstellar plasma in August 2012.

Plasma Sounds at Jupiter

Ominous sounds of plasma! Our Juno spacecraft has observed plasma wave signals from Jupiter’s ionosphere. The results in this video show an increasing plasma density as Juno descended into Jupiter’s ionosphere during its close pass by Jupiter on February 2, 2017.  

Roar of Jupiter

Juno’s Waves instrument recorded this supernatural sounding encounter with the bow shock over the course of about two hours on June 24, 2016. “Bow shock” is where the supersonic solar wind is heated and slowed by Jupiter’s magnetosphere. It is analogous to a sonic boom on Earth. The next day, June 25, 2016, the Waves instrument witnessed the crossing of the magnetopause. “Trapped continuum radiation” refers to waves trapped in a low-density cavity in Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

Visit the NASA Soundcloud for more spooky space sounds: https://soundcloud.com/nasa/sets/spookyspacesounds

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Need some space? 

Here are 10 perspective-building images for your computer desktop and mobile device wallpaper. 

These are all real images, sent very recently by our planetary missions throughout the solar system. 

1. Our Sun

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Warm up with this view from our Solar Dynamics Observatory showing active regions on the Sun in October 2017. They were observed in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light that reveals plasma heated to over a million degrees. 

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2. Jupiter Up-Close

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This series of enhanced-color images shows Jupiter up close and personal, as our Juno spacecraft performed its eighth flyby of the gas giant planet on Sept. 1, 2017. 

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3. Saturn’s and Its Rings

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With this mosaic from Oct. 28, 2016, our Cassini spacecraft captured one of its last looks at Saturn and its main rings from a distance. 

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4. Gale Crater on Mars

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This look from our Curiosity Mars rover includes several geological layers in Gale crater to be examined by the mission, as well as the higher reaches of Mount Sharp beyond. The redder rocks of the foreground are part of the Murray formation. Pale gray rocks in the middle distance of the right half of the image are in the Clay Unit. A band between those terrains is “Vera Rubin Ridge,” where the rover is working currently. The view combines six images taken with the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Jan. 24, 2017. 

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5. Sliver of Saturn

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Cassini peers toward a sliver of Saturn’s sunlit atmosphere while the icy rings stretch across the foreground as a dark band on March 31, 2017. This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 7 degrees below the ring plane. 

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6. Dwarf Planet Ceres 

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This image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere, as seen by our Dawn mission. Prominently featured is Occator Crater, home of Ceres’ intriguing “bright spots.” The latest research suggests that the bright material in this crater is comprised of salts left behind after a briny liquid emerged from below. 

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7. Martian Crater

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This image from our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows a crater in the region with the most impressive known gully activity in Mars’ northern hemisphere. Gullies are active in the winter due to carbon dioxide frost, but northern winters are shorter and warmer than southern winters, so there is less frost and less gully activity. 

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8. Dynamic Storm on Jupiter

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A dynamic storm at the southern edge of Jupiter’s northern polar region dominates this Jovian cloudscape, courtesy of Juno. This storm is a long-lived anticyclonic oval named North North Temperate Little Red Spot 1. Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager. 

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9. Rings Beyond Saturn’s Sunlit Horizon 

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This false-color view from the Cassini spacecraft gazes toward the rings beyond Saturn’s sunlit horizon. Along the limb (the planet’s edge) at left can be seen a thin, detached haze. 

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10. Saturn’s Ocean-Bearing Moon Enceladus

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Saturn’s active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus sinks behind the giant planet in a farewell portrait from Cassini. This view of Enceladus was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back before its mission came to an end on Sept. 15, after nearly 20 years in space. 

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Applying Wallpaper:
1. Click on the screen resolution you would like to use.
2. Right-click on the image (control-click on a Mac) and select the option ‘Set the Background’ or ‘Set as Wallpaper’ (or similar).

Places to look for more of our pictures include solarsystem.nasa.gov/galleries, images.nasa.gov and www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages.

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Thank you, Cassini.

It’s Friday, Sept. 15 and our Cassini mission has officially come to a spectacular end. The final signal from the spacecraft was received here on Earth at 7:55 a.m. EDT after a fateful plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.

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After losing contact with Earth, the spacecraft burned up like a meteor, becoming part of the planet itself.

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Although bittersweet, Cassini’s triumphant end is the culmination of a nearly 20-year mission that overflowed with discoveries.

But, what happens now?

Mission Team and Data

Now that the spacecraft is gone, most of the team’s engineers are migrating to other planetary missions, where they will continue to contribute to the work we’re doing to explore our solar system and beyond.

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Mission scientists will keep working for the coming years to ensure that we fully understand all of the data acquired during the mission’s Grand Finale. They will carefully calibrate and study all of this data so that it can be entered into the Planetary Data System. From there, it will be accessible to future scientists for years to come.

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Even beyond that, the science data will continue to be worked on for decades, possibly more, depending on the research grants that are acquired.

Other team members, some who have spent most of their career working on the Cassini mission, will use this as an opportunity to retire.

Future Missions

In revealing that Enceladus has essentially all the ingredients needed for life, the mission energized a pivot to the exploration of “ocean worlds” that has been sweeping planetary science over the past couple of decades.

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Jupiter’s moon Europa has been a prime target for future exploration, and many lessons during Cassini’s mission are being applied in planning our Europa Clipper mission, planned for launch in the 2020s.

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The mission will orbit the giant planet, Jupiter, using gravitational assists from large moons to maneuver the spacecraft into repeated close encounters, much as Cassini has used the gravity of Titan to continually shape the spacecraft’s course.

In addition, many engineers and scientists from Cassini are serving on the new Europa Clipper mission and helping to shape its science investigations. For example, several members of the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team are developing an extremely sensitive, next-generation version of their instrument for flight on Europa Clipper. What Cassini has learned about flying through the plume of material spraying from Enceladus will be invaluable to Europa Clipper, should plume activity be confirmed on Europa.

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In the decades following Cassini, scientists hope to return to the Saturn system to follow up on the mission’s many discoveries. Mission concepts under consideration include robotic explorers to drift on the methane seas of Titan and fly through the Enceladus plume to collect and analyze samples for signs of biology.

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Atmospheric probes to all four of the outer planets have long been a priority for the science community, and the most recent recommendations from a group of planetary scientists shows interest in sending such a mission to Saturn. By directly sampling Saturn’s upper atmosphere during its last orbits and final plunge, Cassini is laying the groundwork for an potential Saturn atmospheric probe.

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A variety of potential mission concepts are discussed in a recently completed study — including orbiters, flybys and probes that would dive into Uranus’ atmosphere to study its composition. Future missions to the ice giants might explore those worlds using an approach similar to Cassini’s mission.

Learn more about the Cassini mission and its Grand Finale HERE.

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