In a picture shared Monday, taken back on January 18, just a sliver of Saturn's sun-facing side is visible, giving a glimpse over its shoulder from a distance of 630,000 miles.
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NASA provides a detailed explanation of what you can see in the planet's rings from this angle: "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. The C ring, silhouetted just below the B ring, lets almost all of Saturn's reflected light pass right through it, as if it were barely there at all. The F ring appears as a bright arc in this image, which is visible against both the backdrop of Saturn and the dark sky."
Sadly, the Cassini spacecraft is coming upon the end of its mission. Orbiting Saturn since 2004, it will begin the final phase of its life on April 26 when it makes the first of a series of dives between the planet and its rings.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
"No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we'll attempt to boldly cross 22 times," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement Monday. "What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end."
At the end of these loops between the planet and its rings, the spacecraft will do a death dive into the planet. The final descent is planned for September 15. "Cassini's grand finale is so much more than a final plunge," says Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's a thrilling final chapter for our intrepid spacecraft, and so scientifically rich that it was the clear and obvious choice for how to end the mission."
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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record but has never met the fingernail lady. Follow him @dlukenelson.