The Cassini spacecraft takes an angled view toward Saturn, showing the southern reaches of the planet with the rings on a dramatic diagonal. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The Cassini mission has been a source of awe-inspiring images, surprising science and incredible longevity. Since launching on Oct. 15, 1997, the Cassini spacecraft has logged more than 6.1 billion kilometers (3.8 billion miles)of exploration – enough to circle Earth more than 152,000 times. After flying by Venus twice, Earth, and then Jupiter on its way to Saturn, Cassini pulled into orbit around the ringed planet in 2004 and has been spending its last eight years weaving around Saturn, its glittering rings and intriguing moons.
The spacecraft has sent back some 444 gigabytes of scientific data so far, including more than 300,000 images. More than 2,500 reports have been published in scientific journals based on Cassini data, describing the discovery of the plume of water ice and organic particles spewing from the moon Enceladus; the first views of the hydrocarbon-filled lakes of Saturn’s largest moon Titan; the atmospheric upheaval from a rare, monstrous storm on Saturn and many other curious phenomena.