NASA’s mission to explore Saturn has been running for 10 years, with the Cassini spacecraft discovering seven moons in that time.
The spacecraft has covered more than 2bn miles during its time around the ringed planet – which is the sixth planet from the Sun and has nine continuous rings.
It has landed a probe on Titan, one of the planet’s moons, sent back more than 300,000 photos, showed the rings to be active and been responsible for the production of more than 3,000 reports – as well as many other feats.
The Cassini spacecraft was only supposed to explore the second largest planet in our solar system for four years but it has been granted three extensions since then. It is possible the device will stay active up until 2017.
The spacecraft will celebrate 10 years of exploring the planet, its rings and moons on June 30th. Here are some of our favourite images captured from the craft over the years it has been away from Earth.
39 degrees of separation
This view of the planet rested in the middle of its rings of ice was taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it soared 39 degrees above the unilluminated side of the rings.
Nasa said: “Little light makes its way through the rings to be scattered in Cassini’s direction in this viewing geometry, making the rings appear somewhat dark compared to the reflective planet.”
The faint ring
The sun was almost directly behind Saturn in this image and it revealed, for the first time, a faint ring of material coincident with the orbit of the small moon Pallene.
NASA said: “This viewing geometry makes microscopic, icy ring particles brighten substantially. Cassini spent nearly 12 hours in Saturn’s shadow on Sept. 15, 2006, making observations like this one.”
Waves and small particles in ring A
Colour is used to represent information about ring particle sises based on the measured effects of three radio signals sent through the rings. Red shades show where there is a lack of particles less than five centimeters in diameter.
NASA said: “This simulated image was constructed from the measured optical depth profiles of the Cassini Division and ring A. It depicts the observed structure at about 10 kilometers (six miles) in resolution.”
Catching Saturn’s ring waves
The false color image of two density waves in Saturn’s A ring was made by Cassini’s unltraviolet imaging tools, while it was 4m miles from the planet.
NASA said: “Bright areas indicate the denser regions of the rings. The bright bands in the left part of the image are the “peaks” of a density wave caused by gravitational stirring of the rings by Saturn’s moon, Janus. A smaller density wave in the right half of the image is produced by the moon Pandora.”
The long-lived storm
These views of the planet show the longest electrical storm observed by the mission on the planet’s surface.
NASA said: “The view at left was created by combining images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters, and shows Saturn in colors that approximate what the human eye would see. The storm stands out with greater clarity in the sharpened, enhanced color view at right.”
Circles on Saturn
Winds on the planet travel around 600 mph around the surface which forms distinct belts and zones, encircling the planet’s pole – as well as the famous heaxagon on the top.
The view was taken 1.3m miles from Saturn and NASA said: “These zonal winds spin off swirls and eddies, which are significant storms in their own right. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 51 degrees above the ringplane.”
Saturn’s moon Hyperion
This false-colour view of Hyperion, one of Saturn’s moons, shows a detailed view across the moon’s surface. The different colours could represent differences in the surface materials.
NASA said: “Hyperion has a notably reddish tint when viewed in natural color. The red color was toned down in this false-color view, and the other hues were enhanced, in order to make more subtle color variations across Hyperion’s surface more apparent.”
All images courtesy of NASA/Cassini Mission