See Saturn's secrets through NASA Cassini's finest views
Sunrise on Saturn
The Cassini spacecraft bid farewell to the galaxy with a death dive into Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017. The probe launched in 1997 and delivered unprecedented looks at the ringed planet and its many moons during its mission lifespan. These images represent some of Cassini's finest views from space.
Sunrise on Saturn looks a bit different than it does on Earth. Cassini watched dawn rise on the gas giant in this image from mid-2014. The light falls artfully on Saturn's stormy atmosphere and bands of clouds.
First published May 2.
Update, Sept. 13 at 7 a.m. PT: Added eight images at the end.
Update, Sept. 15 at 9:05 a.m. PT: Added final image and information on the mission's end.
Death Star moon
Saturn's moon Mimas is one the ringed planet's most famous companions thanks to its resemblance to the planet-destroying Death Star spacecraft from Star Wars.
You won't find Darth Vader hanging out on Mimas, but you will notice its round shape and large impact crater that matches the superlaser dish on the sci-fi craft. Cassini captured this image of Mimas in October 2016.
A graceful Cassini image from early 2017 shows Saturn's face and rings lit up by the sun. NASA explains what we're seeing with the rings: "From this vantage point just beneath the ring plane, the dense B ring becomes dark and essentially opaque, letting almost no light pass through. But some light reflected by the planet passes through the less dense A ring, which appears above the B ring in this photo."
'Snowman' on Enceladus
NASA shared an image of a snowman-shaped set of indentations in the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus in late 2015. The "snowman" is actually three well-placed craters.
Earth seen from Saturn
Before Cassini entered its 2017 Grand Finale dives between Saturn and its rings, it took a moment to look back at its long-distant home planet. It might be hard to spot, but look for the bright point of light near the center of the image and you will find Earth seen from 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away.
Dione's craggy, crater-filled surface is on full display in this Cassini close-up from mid-2015. The Saturn moon is just under 700 miles (1,125 kilometers) in diameter. The white line standing out above the moon's surface is Saturn's rings in the distance.
Three moons at once
A 2014 Cassini image captured a rare view of three of Saturn's moons. This dramatic look shows the planet's rings along with Tethys, Hyperion and Prometheus. Tethys is one of Saturn's largest moons. Heavily cratered Hyperion appears above and to the left of Tethys and small, potato-shaped Prometheus peeks out underneath the bottom edge of the rings.
Titan looks colorful in this composite infrared image assembled from Cassini shots taken during a November 2015 flyby. Scientists can see through the moon's hazy atmosphere and inspect surface details through the use of near-infrared wavelengths. Titan is Saturn's largest moon.
In late 2015, Cassini swooped by one of Saturn's odder moons, Prometheus. Prometheus has an oblong shape and pockmarked surface that gives it a distinct resemblance to a potato.
Peering into the rings
Saturn's rings are made up of rocks, ice and dust. NASA released a series of close-up Cassini images of those fascinating formations in early 2017. This particular image shows the planet's A ring and was captured during the spacecraft's ring-grazing orbits prior to the start of its Grand Finale dives between the planet and the rings.
Saturn and Titan
Saturn poses with its largest moon in this picturesque Cassini shot from May 2015. At 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers) across, Titan is the ringed planet's largest moon. Cassini was 1.4 million miles (2.2 million kilometers) from Saturn when it took the image.
NASA nicknamed this spinning vortex of a storm seen on Saturn's north pole "The Rose" based on its resemblance to the Earth flower. The Cassini image is shown in false-color to highlight the storm's whirling cloud patterns.
Cloudy north pole
Cassini settled into a new orbit pattern in December 2016 ahead of its Grand Finale of final dives around the planet in 2017. That new orbit gave the spacecraft an excellent view of the geometric cloudy storm patterns found on the planet's north pole.
Saturn's moon Hyperion shows off its sponge-like surface texture in this Cassini image from mid-2015. NASA notes Hyperion is "Saturn's largest irregularly shaped moon."
Saturn's dainty moon Pan is just 17 miles (28 kilometers) across. It's cute, and it also looks like a piece of ravioli pasta due to its irregular shape. Cassini sent back some images of the unusual moon in early 2017. It's not the only Saturn moon that looks like Earth food. The moon Prometheus resembles a potato.
Swirling Saturn close-up
Cassini began a series of daring Grand Finale dives between Saturn and its rings in April 2017. This unprocessed image shows what the spacecraft saw during its first dive.
Triple crescent moons
We're used to seeing a single crescent moon in Earth's night sky, but the view from around Saturn can be very different. Saturn hosts dozens of moons. Cassini saw this graceful image of three crescent moons in 2015. The moons are Titan (Saturn's largest), Rhea and Mimas.
Cassini caught sight of this stunning view of Saturn's moon Dione bisected by the planet's rings in late 2015. It looks like Dione could split apart like a plastic Easter egg.
Saturn's massive polar storm
This Cassini image shows a large, turbulent storm raging on Saturn's south pole. At 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) across, the storm is two-thirds Earth's diameter. Though released in early 2016, the image is a composite of two images taken in July 2008.
Saturn sure has some weird-looking moons, including tiny Atlas, which even NASA admits looks like a UFO. A center bulge lends it the unique flying-saucer shape. Atlas is just 19 miles (30 kilometers) across. Cassini snapped this image in April 2017.
Aurora on Saturn
Earth doesn't have an exclusive on auroras. This NASA animation, released in July 2017, comes from a series of Cassini images and shows what an aurora looks like on Saturn. The aurora has a ghostly cloud-like appearance in this GIF.
Tiny moon, big rings
Saturn's rings look huge in comparison to the moon Mimas (seen just below the rings at the bottom). Despite their hulking appearance, NASA says the rings are actually very thin, "no thicker than the height of a house." Cassini captured this image in July 2016.
Cassini's perspective in this view from October 2016 makes it look like the moon Mimas could run into Saturn's rings, but it's actually 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) away.
Saturn's wavy clouds
NASA compiled this false-color image from Cassini views taken on May 18, 2017. The picture highlights the complex interplay of cloud bands and the wave patterns they make where they touch.
Titan seen twice
You are seeing double. This image shows two different Cassini views of Saturn's moon Titan. The image on the left shows Titan in natural color while the image on the right is in false color, which makes the moon's clouds stand out. Cassini captured these looks on March 21, 2017.
Cassini's view from the gap
A big part of Cassini's 2017 grand finale farewell tour involved shooting the gap between Saturn and its rings. NASA released a movie showing the spacecraft's view of the rings during one of these dramatic dives. The GIF consists of 21 images captured in late August.
A last full look at Saturn
On Oct. 28, 2016, Cassini got one of its last full looks at Saturn and its rings from a distance, giving us a dramatic portrait of the planet.
Though Cassini orbited the planet for 13 years, that time span represents less than half of a Saturnian year, which lasts for nearly 30 Earth years.
Enceladus plume movie
NASA released this GIF in early September showing Saturn's moon Enceladus and its fascinating plume of water vapor and ice. The plume is visible at the bottom of the moon.
Cassini captured the images used in the movie on Aug. 28. This was Cassini's last look at Enceladus before the end of its mission.
Cassini got a good look at Saturn's moon Enceladus and its heavily cratered northern side in this image taken in late 2016. The southern end of Enceladus features smoother terrain thanks to geologic activity.
Saturn's B Ring in color
Behold Cassini's highest resolution color image of a portion of Saturn's B Ring. NASA released this fascinating look at the ring in early September. The composite image features ringlets and bands of varying sizes. The fatter bands near the edge are up to 300 miles (500 kilometers) wide.
Saturn's shifting pole colors
These two images show the change in colors at Saturn's north polar region from June 2013 to April 2017. The hexagon is from a jet stream system.
NASA believes the yellowish haze comes from smog particles caused by an increase in solar radiation as Saturn reaches its northern summer solstice.
Shangri-La Sand Sea
No, this isn't a close-up look at a Van Gogh painting. It's a Cassini image of the Shangri-La Sand Sea on Saturn's moon Titan. It shows a series of undulating sand dunes.
Saturn from the shadow
Cassini took this spectacular backlit image of Saturn in 2012 when the spacecraft hid in the planet's shadow. Details in the image show better thanks to enhanced color.
If you look closely, you might spot two moons in the lower left corner. Enceladus is closer to the rings and Tethys is a little farther down toward the corner.
Cassini's last image
NASA shared two versions of Cassini's final image taken before the spacecraft destroyed itself in Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15. One is monochrome and the other is in natural color. This last look shows Saturn from a distance of 394,000 miles (634,000 kilometers) away.