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These Stunning Photos of Saturn Are a Beautiful Goodbye From NASA’s Cassini Probe

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The Cassini spacecraft will take a plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday after spending 20 years flying through the solar system and commit one final act: self-destruction.

The NASA spacecraft left Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1997 and has traveled about 4.9 billion miles (7.8 billion km) since then, according to NASA. Since Cassini arrived at Saturn, it has circled the ringed planet nearly 300 times, taking photographs for scientists back on Earth to learn from.

In its finale, the probe will burn up once it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere. This ensures that microbes from Earth cannot infect Saturn’s potentially inhabitable moon, Enceladus.

It will take 83 minutes after the probe’s destruction for the signals to stop arriving on Earth, at about 7:55 a.m. ET.

Here are eight images Cassini took along its journey:


In Saturn's Shadow
This panoramic was created by combining 165 separate images taken by Cassini's wide-angle camera over a three hour period on September 15, 2006.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


The Rose
This picture, captured on November 27, 2012, shows the spinning vortex of Saturn's north polar storm from a distance of 419,000 km.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


Fire and Ice
Here Cassini captures Saturn's largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, from over 1 million kilometers away in a true-color image on June 16, 2011.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


Y Marks the Spot
A sinuous feature snakes northward from the north pole of Saturn's sixth biggest moon, Enceladus, like a giant tentacle on Feb. 15, 2016.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


The Rite of Spring
Of the countless equinoxes Saturn has seen since the birth of the solar system, this one, captured here in a mosaic of light and dark, is the first witnessed up close by an emissary from Earth on August 12, 2009.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


Colorful Structure at Fine Scales
These are the highest-resolution color images of any part of Saturn's rings, to date, showing a portion of the inner-central part of the planet's B Ring.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


Encroaching Shadow
This narrow-angle camera image was taken on November 30. 2010 as Cassini was looking across the south pole of Saturn's sixth biggest moon, Enceladus.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.


Translucent Rings
Although solid-looking in many images, Saturn's rings are actually translucent. In this picture, taken August 12, 2014 we can glimpse the shadow of the rings on the planet through (and below) the A and C rings themselves.NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

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