The images put us there.
At Saturn. Almost a billion miles from home. Some reveal overwhelming beauty. Others show tricks of light and seemingly magical oddities. Some reveal events from the distant past that have been preserved for eons, while other views depict processes that are changing now. The gallery (see below) shows many of these images, in all their stunning detail and beauty.
Last September 15 saw the fiery demise of one of the most remarkable scientific instruments of mankind: the Cassini space probe. Not only did it do its job much longer than it was designed for (20 years instead of 10 years) it did it extremely well, under incredibly harsh circumstances.
“Old”, but remarkable imaging systems
Some of the imagery the camera systems (the first 1-megapixel CCD cameras, designed to survive the brutal radiation environment) collected for us, and sent back, are downright stunning.
The two cameras are similar in some ways to digital cameras on Earth. The wide-angle camera uses lenses, while the narrow-angle camera uses mirrors, to focus light on a detector called a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) that converts light into a digital image made of pixels. But while today’s cameras on Earth have (more advanced CMOS) detectors with dozens of megapixels, Cassini’s cameras — built in the early 1990s — are closer to 1 megapixel.
The cameras however are far more carefully calibrated than Earth cameras and were built to survive more than 10 years in the harsh conditions of outer space. The cameras were built so well, in fact, that they continued capturing mind-blowing images to the very last day, nearly 20 years after the spacecraft left Earth.
Cassini’s cameras capture views in color by taking three images, each with a different color filter, which are then combined back on Earth. The resulting images show us the planets, such as Saturn, in true colors as our eyes would see it were we actually there.
Gallery Hall of Fame
It is very much worth it, to use some of your time to have a look at the Cassini Image gallery at https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/imaging-science-subsystem/
There was much excitement in the mission. The Huygens probe landing on Titan, those hair-raising very close flybys of Enceladus (just 25 kilometers over its surface when Cassini was moving at a similar relative speed), the SAR (Radar) images of Titan when those normally invisible methane lakes and seas finally appeared… it was a great luck her mission was extended two times, to watch the equinox first and the solstice later. Without a doubt, the Cassini mission was one of the most impressive robotic emissaries of Earth ever launched.
Her legend as well as that of the Huygens probe will forever live in the history of space exploration.