CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA's Cassini spacecraft snapped a farewell photo of Earth through Saturn's rings as the probe begins to alter its orbit for a 'Grand Finale' suicide plunge into Saturn later this year.
Cassini captured the image on April 12, 2017 when it was 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from Earth. Although far too small to be visible in the image, the part of Earth facing toward Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean.
This weekend, Cassini made its final close flyby of Saturn's haze-enshrouded moon Titan. The flyby marks the mission's final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across the moon's northern polar region, and the last chance to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and make detailed images of the surface.
Cassini's closest approach to Titan occurred at 2:08 a.m. EDT on April 22, 2017. During the encounter, Cassini passed as close as 608 miles (979 kilometers) above Titan's surface at a speed of about 13,000 mph (21,000 kph).
The flyby is also the gateway to Cassini's Grand Finale, which is a final set of 22 orbits that pass between the planet and its rings, ending with a fiery plunge into Saturn on September 15, 2017.
During the close pass, Titan's gravity bent Cassini's orbit around Saturn, shrinking it slightly, so that instead of passing just outside the rings, the spacecraft will begin its finale dives which pass just inside the rings.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute