Unless you've been living under a rock in recent months you'll know that on September 15th, 2017 the Cassini spacecraft—all 2,150 kilos of it—will end its remarkable mission with a destructive plunge into Saturn's atmosphere.
In a very real sense the robotic probe will at last become a part of the very system it has so diligently studied since 2004.
In the lead-up to that moment Cassini has been swooping across Saturn on Grand Finale orbits that take the craft within the ring structures themselves. This vantage point (and those still outside the rings) is producing some truly stunning images—perhaps not so much because they show Saturn in a radically different way (although some do), but because they offer a novel perspective, the kind of perspective that artists and astrophysical dreamers have only imagined until now.
Here are some of those portraits:
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Caleb A. Scharf is director of astrobiology at Columbia University. He is author and co-author of more than 100 scientific research articles in astronomy and astrophysics. His work has been featured in publications such as New Scientist, Scientific American, Science News, Cosmos Magazine, Physics Today and National Geographic. For many years he wrote the Life, Unbounded blog for Scientific American.