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:
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
Dr. Caleb A. Scharf is Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University,and has an international reputation as a research astrophysicist, and asa lecturer to college and public audiences. The UK's Guardian newspaperhas listed his blog Life, Unbounded, as one of their "hottest scienceblogs," while an editor at Seed Magazine called it "phenomenal.Informed, fresh, and thoughtful." Scharf is author and co-author of morethan 100 scientific research articles in astronomy and astrophysics. Hiswork has been featured in publications such as New Scientist, ScientificAmerican, Science News, Cosmos Magazine, Physics Today, and NationalGeographic, as well as online at sites like Space.com and Physorg.com.His textbook for undergraduate and graduate students, Extrasolar Planetsand Astrobiology, won the 2012 Chambliss Prize of the AAS. Hisarticles and reviews have appeared in such prestigious publications asScience, Nature, The Astrophysical Journal, and Monthly Notices of theRoyal Astronomical Society.Dr. Scharf is a regular keynote speaker at academic meetings, such asfor the American Physical Society, museums, and both public and privatevenues, including the American Museum of Natural History, the RubinMuseum of Art in New York. He has been a guest on Krulwich on Science atNPR, William Shatner's "Weird or What?" and has served as a consultantto editors and producers at National Geographic Magazine, The ScienceChannel, The Discovery Channel, and The New York Times.