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For more than a decade, Cassini’s Saturn photos turned scientific research into contemporary art

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Here's looking at you.
  • Johnny Simon
By Johnny Simon

Deputy Photo Editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is expected to descend, in a dramatic fashion, into Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday (Sept 15). It has been orbiting the ringed planet for more than a decade.

Cassini did quite a bit of work during its cosmic tenure, including collecting crucial information about the chemical makeup of Saturn and its moons, some of which might be capable of supporting life. But beyond the data, many of its images are also visually striking, evoking revered Japanese minimalist photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto with commanding lines and stark chiaroscuro.

Rendered primarily in black and white due to technical limitations, Cassini’s images combine the mesmerizing abstractions of the Hubble Space telescope with the immediacy of dispatches from the Mars Curiosity Rover. The gallery-worthy selection below offers both tangibility and (literal) other-worldliness: The viewer can finally see what Saturn’s rings are made of—but what looks like a single speck might be as big a truck in reality.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A view of Tethys, one of Saturns moons, visible in the top left corner.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A detail of Saturn’s C ring
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Enceladus’ intriguing south-polar jets are viewed from afar, backlit by sunlight while the moon itself glows softly in reflected Saturn-shine.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
An illuminated sliver of Saturn seen in March, 2017.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A view of the Keeler Gap, near the outer edge of Saturn’s rings.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The highest-resolution color images of any part of Saturn’s rings, showing a portion of the inner-central part of the planet’s B Ring.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Clouds on Saturn’s northern hemisphere.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Swirling clouds on Saturns north pole.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
In this frame, one of Saturn’s moons, Mimas, is visible in the lower right corner.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A pair of Saturn’s moons are dwarfed by Saturn lingering from behind.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A view of Saturn’s rings and one of its moons Enceladus.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A view of Saturn’s north pole.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Waves structures in Saturn’s rings.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturn’s moon Dione crosses the face of the giant planet in this view, a phenomenon astronomers call a transit.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A view Saturn’s rings, its moon Enceladus and a visible night side of the planet.

Read next: How to watch Cassini’s Saturn mission end with a daring dive into the atmosphere

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