Tech NASA picked the 100 greatest images of Saturn from its Cassini mission — here are some of the best

  • Published:

After 13 years of orbiting Saturn and its moons, NASA's Cassini probe is gone. But the images it left behind are truly astounding.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft undergoing thermal testing in 1996. play

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft undergoing thermal testing in 1996.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
24/7 Live - Subscribe to the Pulse Newsletter!

After 13 years of orbiting Saturn and its moons, NASA's bus-size Cassini probe is now a puff of radioactive vapor in the planet's swirling clouds.

Space agency leaders knew this day would come since 2010, when they decided to empty Cassini's tanks to continue exploring Saturn as long as possible.

Without a means of controlling the probe, they reasoned, Cassini had to be destroyed. This would prevent it crashing into Saturn's icy moons Enceladus and Titan — which hide vast, salty, global oceans that may be habitable to alien life — since Cassini left Earth contaminated with small amounts of bacteria.

To honor the more than 453,000 photos Cassini took of Saturn, its rings, moons, and other objects, several NASA divisions worked together to select its 100 greatest visuals. Those have been turned into a 110-page ebook, titled "The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini", which is free to download for iBooks, Kindles, and other ebook readers (and just as a PDF).

"While these images represent the tip of the iceberg — each telling a story about Saturn and its mysterious moons — our hope is that the mission will inspire future artists and explorers," NASA wrote in a press release. "The sheer beauty of these images is surpassed only by the science and discoveries they represent."

Jim Green, NASA's head of planetary science, wrote the forward to the collection of pictures.

"This book is the first chapter of what I predict will be the greatest story ever told: how humans reached for the stars and discovered life beyond Earth," Green said.

Here's a small collection of the best images and what they reveal.

The book includes beautiful views of Saturn. This image shows the planet's north pole and its hexagonal blue-yellow storm, which is big enough to fit several Earths inside.

A view of Saturn's north pole and rings taken on October 10, 2013, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. play

A view of Saturn's north pole and rings taken on October 10, 2013, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Cornell)


Cassini snapped this photo of Saturn while passing through the planet's shadow.

A backlit photo of Saturn and its moons taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. play

A backlit photo of Saturn and its moons taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)


Here Saturn appears to float. In fact, the planet is so gaseous it'd float on water (if there was an ocean big enough).

Here Saturn appears to float. In fact, the planet is so gaseous it'd float on water (if there was an ocean big enough). play

Here Saturn appears to float. In fact, the planet is so gaseous it'd float on water (if there was an ocean big enough).

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


Near-infrared photos revealed Saturn in a whole different light. (This image is colorized to highlight different wavelengths.)

Near-infrared photos revealed Saturn in a whole different light. (This image is colorized to highlight different wavelengths.) play

Near-infrared photos revealed Saturn in a whole different light. (This image is colorized to highlight different wavelengths.)

(NASA/JPL/ASI/University of Arizona)


The star of the Cassini mission was Enceladus: a small, ice-encrusted moon that hides an ocean.

The star of the Cassini mission was Enceladus: a small, ice-encrusted moon that hides an ocean. play

The star of the Cassini mission was Enceladus: a small, ice-encrusted moon that hides an ocean.

(NAS/JPL-Caltech)


Cassini flew through jets of Enceladus' ocean that shoot out of the moon's south pole. The probe "tasted" the spray and revealed that the ocean was warm and possibly habitable to alien microbes.

Geysers of water spray out of Enceladus' south pole. They're evidence of a global ocean hidden below. play

Geysers of water spray out of Enceladus' south pole. They're evidence of a global ocean hidden below.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


Titan, Saturn's largest moon (left), is the size of planet Mercury. Cassini used its gravity to change its orbit and visit targets of interest.

This image shows four moons near Saturn (right), including Titan — the largest in the scene. play

This image shows four moons near Saturn (right), including Titan — the largest in the scene.

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)


The probe's views of Titan in front of Saturn were striking.

The probe's views of Titan in front of Saturn were striking. play

The probe's views of Titan in front of Saturn were striking.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


This shot shows Saturn's second-largest moon, Rhea, eclipsing Titan.

This shot shows Saturn's second-largest moon, Rhea, eclipsing Titan. play

This shot shows Saturn's second-largest moon, Rhea, eclipsing Titan.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)


Titan's atmosphere is twice as thick as Earth's. The moon has clouds, weather, and even liquid lakes. Cassini caught this glint of sunlight reflecting off of Titan's largest lake in 2009.

Titan's atmosphere is twice as thick as Earth's. The moon has clouds, weather, and even liquid lakes. Cassini caught this glint of sunlight reflecting off of Titan's largest lake in 2009. play

Titan's atmosphere is twice as thick as Earth's. The moon has clouds, weather, and even liquid lakes. Cassini caught this glint of sunlight reflecting off of Titan's largest lake in 2009.

(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/DLR)


Near-infrared photos cut through Titan's clouds and haze to reveal its complex surface.

Near-infrared photos cut through Titan's clouds and haze to reveal its complex surface. play

Near-infrared photos cut through Titan's clouds and haze to reveal its complex surface.

(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho)


In January 2004, Cassini dropped off Huygens — a European-built lander — on Titan, leading to the first alien-moon landing in human history.

In January 2004, Cassini dropped off Huygens — a European-built lander — on Titan, leading to the first alien-moon landing in human history. play

In January 2004, Cassini dropped off Huygens — a European-built lander — on Titan, leading to the first alien-moon landing in human history.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


Ligeia Mare is Titan's largest lake. It's full of hydrocarbons like ethane and methane.

Ligeia Mare is Titan's largest lake. It's full of hydrocarbons like ethane and methane. play

Ligeia Mare is Titan's largest lake. It's full of hydrocarbons like ethane and methane.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell)


Cassini inventoried Saturn's other weird moons, too, including Iapetus...

Cassini inventoried Saturn's other weird moons, too, including Iapetus... play

Cassini inventoried Saturn's other weird moons, too, including Iapetus...

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute via NASA APOD)


...And pockmarked Hyperion.

...And pockmarked Hyperion. play

...And pockmarked Hyperion.

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)


Dione, a small icy moon, is dominated by Saturn and its ring shadows in this image.

Dione, a small icy moon, is dominated by Saturn and its ring shadows in this image. play

Dione, a small icy moon, is dominated by Saturn and its ring shadows in this image.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


Cassini also caught stunning close-ups of Saturn's rings, which are now thought to be millions of years old.

Cassini also caught stunning close-ups of Saturn's rings, which are now thought to be millions of years old. play

Cassini also caught stunning close-ups of Saturn's rings, which are now thought to be millions of years old.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


The planet's inner C-ring is almost translucent in this photo, showing the blue-hazed limb of Saturn's atmosphere behind it.

The planet's inner C-ring is almost translucent in this photo, showing the blue-hazed limb of Saturn's atmosphere behind it. play

The planet's inner C-ring is almost translucent in this photo, showing the blue-hazed limb of Saturn's atmosphere behind it.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


Just like ice in Earth's atmosphere, Saturn's rings can produce rainbow-hued halos.

Just like ice in Earth's atmosphere, Saturn's rings can produce rainbow-hued halos. play

Just like ice in Earth's atmosphere, Saturn's rings can produce rainbow-hued halos.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


This weird view shows how Saturn's outer atmosphere distorts light from rings located behind it.

This weird view shows how Saturn's outer atmosphere distorts light from rings located behind it. play

This weird view shows how Saturn's outer atmosphere distorts light from rings located behind it.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


Though gossamer-thin, Cassini showed that Saturn's rings have complex structure. These roughly mile-high peaks cast shadows on nearby ring material.

Though gossamer-thin, Cassini showed that Saturn's rings have complex structure. These roughly mile-high peaks cast shadows on nearby ring material. play

Though gossamer-thin, Cassini showed that Saturn's rings have complex structure. These roughly mile-high peaks cast shadows on nearby ring material.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


The gravity of Prometheus — a small, potato-shaped moon lurking in Saturn's F-ring — was found to create "streamers" in ring material.

The gravity of Prometheus — a small, potato-shaped moon lurking in Saturn's F-ring — was found to create "streamers" in ring material. play

The gravity of Prometheus — a small, potato-shaped moon lurking in Saturn's F-ring — was found to create "streamers" in ring material.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)


This grainy image reveals a deep mystery of Saturn: "propeller objects" (the white streaks) that fail to carve out their own lanes in the rings.

This grainy image reveals a deep mystery of Saturn: "propeller objects" (the white streaks) that fail to carve out their own lanes in the rings. play

This grainy image reveals a deep mystery of Saturn: "propeller objects" (the white streaks) that fail to carve out their own lanes in the rings.

("The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini"; NASA PSD; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA LPI)

See the rest of the images in NASA's book here.