Final Cassini images show Saturn’s auroras in “unprecedented” detail

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This photograph shows Saturn’s ultraviolet auroras, wildly circling its northern hemisphere.

It was generated using images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during the last leg of its 20-year journey, as it performed a daring orbit passing between Saturn and its rings, bringing it closer to the ringed planet than ever before.

This series of orbits was known as its “Grand Finale”.

Researchers at the UK’s Lancaster University have been analysing some of Cassini’s final data, allowing them to obtain ultraviolet images of Saturn’s auroras in what’s claimed to be “unprecedented resolution”.

Despite Cassini’s 13-year study, researchers say many questions on Saturn’s auroras remain.

They are known to be “highly dynamic, often pulsating and flashing”.

Researchers believe these images will form an important basis for future auroral research.

After 13 years exploring Saturn, Cassini disintegrated in the skies above the ringed planet in a final, fateful blaze of cosmic glory in September 2017.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed scientists the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their splendour.

In all, Cassini collected more than 453,000 images and travelled 4.9 billion miles.

Cassini departed Earth in 1997 and arrived at the sixth planet from our sun in 2004.

Three other spacecraft previously flew past Saturn, but Cassini was the only one to actually circle the planet.

Cassini was named after the Italian-born astronomer Giovanni Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s moons in the late 1600s as well as the division between Saturn’s rings.

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