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10 Things: Why Cassini Mattered

Full view of Saturn partially illuminated by the Sun.
This was Cassini's view from orbit around Saturn on Jan. 2, 2010.

On Sept. 15, 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ended its epic exploration of Saturn with a planned dive into the planet’s atmosphere – sending back new science to the last second. The spacecraft is gone, but the science continues. Here are 10 reasons why Cassini mattered.

Backlit plume erupting from Enceladus
The geyser basin at the south pole of Saturn's ocean moon Enceladus as seen by Cassini in 2014.

1. Game Changers

Cassini and ESA’s Huygens probe expanded our understanding of the kinds of worlds where life might exist.

Full disk view of Saturn's hazy moon Titan.
Using a special spectral filter, Cassini was able to peer through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan.

2. A (Little) Like Home

The Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe showed us one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve ever encountered: Saturn's largest moon – Titan. It has weather, climate, and geology that provide new ways to understand our home planet.

Detailed color view of Saturn's rings.
Saturn's rings display their subtle colors in this view captured in 2009, by the Cassini spacecraft.

3. A Time Machine (In a Sense)

Cassini gave us a portal to see the physical processes that likely shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.

Color view of Saturn's north polar hexagon storm.
The north pole of Saturn, in the fresh light of spring, is revealed in this color image from Cassini.

4. The Long Run

The length of Cassini’s mission enabled us to observe weather and seasonal changes over nearly half of a Saturn year, improving our understanding of similar processes on Earth, and potentially those on planets around other stars.

Five moons and Saturn's rings as seen from Cassini.
On July 29, 2011, Cassini captured five of Saturn's moons in a single frame.

5. Big Science in Small Places

Cassini revealed Saturn’s moons to be unique worlds with their own stories to tell.

Saturn's rings crossed by shadow.
Rays of light from the sun have taken many different paths to compose this glorious image of Saturn and its rings.

6. Ringscape

Cassini showed us the complexity of Saturn’s rings and the dramatic processes operating within them.

Enceladus and Saturn's rings illuminated by sunlight.
Saturn's moon Enceladus drifts before the rings and the tiny moon Pandora.

7. Pure Exploration

Some of Cassini’s best discoveries were serendipitous. What Cassini found at Saturn prompted scientists to rethink their understanding of the solar system.

A blueprint of the Cassini orbiter.

8. The Right Tools for the Job

Cassini represented a staggering achievement of human and technical complexity, finding innovative ways to use the spacecraft and its instruments, and paving the way for future missions to explore our solar system.

Saturn captured with an ethereal glow as it is backlit by the Sun.
On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA's Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn's shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings -- and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.

9. Jewel of the Solar System

Cassini revealed the beauty of Saturn, its rings and moons, inspiring our sense of wonder and enriching our sense of place in the cosmos.

Cartoon version of Cassini diving between Saturn and its rings.
This is one in a series of whimsical retro posters designed to celebrate Cassini's Grand Finale after almost 20 years in space.

10. Much Still to Teach Us

The data returned by Cassini during its 13 years at Saturn will be studied for decades, and many new discoveries are undoubtedly waiting to be revealed. To review what we've already learned, visit our Cassini mission site.