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Literally Just 17 Beautiful Pics Of Our Solar System

It's worth having a look at how beautiful our little solar system is.

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In 1997, a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying a little robotic spaceship, Cassini. For nearly 19 years Cassini has been falling through the outer solar system, taking incredible photos of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and their moons. They're some of the most beautiful images in astronomical history.

Next year its mission will come to an end, and it will fly closer and closer to Saturn and eventually burn up in its atmosphere. Before then, let's have a look at some of the most breathtaking pictures it's sent back.

1. Saturn with the sun behind it.

NASA / Cassini / Via saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Cassini took 165 images over three hours in 2006. They were stitched together to create this extraordinary image of the gas giant hanging in space, shadowing Cassini from the sun. The backlighting revealed new, previously unknown rings. Up and to the left of the brightest ring is a tiny white dot – Earth, almost a billion miles away.

2. Geysers on Enceladus.

NASA / Cassini / Via saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

This image from 2009 shows great plumes of salt water bursting from the surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. It's good evidence that there is a huge ocean of salty water beneath the icy crust of the little world. Scientists think Enceladus is one of the most promising places to look for alien life in our solar system.

3. Saturn and two of her daughters.

NASA / Cassini / Via photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov

Dione and Titan (Titan's the big one), two of Saturn's moons, in front of the planet and its rings, taken in 2011.

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4. A new look at Jupiter.

NASA / Cassini / Via jpl.nasa.gov

We're used to seeing Jupiter from level with its equator, with its horizontal stripes. But in 2000, Cassini flew "underneath" it to take this composite picture of its south pole. The famous Great Red Spot is towards the top left of the image.

5. A map of a world.

NASA / Cassini / Via photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov

And here's the more usual side-on view of Jupiter, taken from 36 colour images and expanded into the most detailed map of the planet ever made.


7. Saturn in close-up.

NASA / Cassini / Via nasa.gov

Cassini was still 12 million miles away from Saturn when it took this beautiful image, but the gas giant is so enormous that it already wouldn't fit into the camera frame. The little pale dot below Saturn's south pole is Enceladus.

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8. A view of a hidden world.

NASA / Cassini / Via saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Titan's atmosphere is opaque with cloud, so ordinary photos can't show the surface. Cassini took this composite image using infrared light – heat – which allowed it to see the dunes, highlands and craters of the huge moon.

9. A gap in Saturn's halo.

NASA / Cassini / Via photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov

To give you a sense of how enormous the rings of Saturn are, that black gap between the bright inner ring and the fainter middle one is 3,000 miles across.

10. A giant and her baby.

NASA / Cassini / Via photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov

Another way of sensing the scale of Saturn – that's Tethys, one of its moons, to the bottom right, utterly dwarfed by the vast planet. Tethys has been artificially brightened to make it more visible.

11. Rings and shadow.

NASA / Cassini / Via jpl.nasa.gov

Tethys with Saturn in the background. Saturn's rings, almost edge-on, are visible at the top of the picture, while the lines beneath are the shadows the rings cast against the planet's surface.

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13. Cracks in the ice of Enceladus.

NASA / Cassini / Via nasa.gov

The icy surface of Enceladus, showing a Y-shaped feature caused by the ice slowly moving, pushed by the tectonic forces of the little world.

15. Another look at Dione.

NASA / Cassini / Via jpl.nasa.gov

This photo was taken in a wavelength that's absorbed by the gas methane, which is abundant in Saturn's atmosphere, so the giant planet looks dark while Dione shines brightly.

17. Winter on Saturn.

NASA / Cassini / Via jpl.nasa.gov

The southern hemisphere of Saturn is entering its winter – when it tilts away from the sun – and develops a bluish tint as it does so. This photo is taken in real colour.


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