NASA's Cassini spacecraft sends its love this Valentine's Day with photos of Saturn's beautiful rings, moons and polar vortex.
The Cassini-Huygens mission — a joint collaboration led by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — launched in 1997 and is in its final year in orbit around Saturn. Throughout its stay at the ringed planet, Cassini has captured extraordinary photos that are published in an image gallery online. Anyone can download the photos to create artistic masterpieces of their own.
"We're so gratified that Cassini's images have inspired people to work with the pictures themselves to produce such beautiful creations," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement from NASA. [Valentine's Day in Space: Cosmic Love Photos]
This stunning view captures Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, tucked within the planet's E ring. The photo is a composite of images taken by Cassini on July 19, 2013.
Enceladus has a diameter of 314 miles (505 kilometers), and despite its freezing temperatures, scientists say the moon hosts liquid water beneath its surface and therefore has the potential to support life.
Another amazing composite photo captures Saturn's largest moon, Titan, as a crescent with a distinct cyan-colored layer of haze in the moon's upper atmosphere. The images of Titan used in this composite were captured by Cassini on Jan. 2, 2014.
This color-enhanced photo, taken by Cassini on Jan. 26, 2014, offers a spectacular view of the strange hexagonal storm swirling above Saturn's north pole, as well as the gas giant's iconic rings and banded atmosphere.
Before Cassini's mission at Saturn comes to an end in September, NASA is launching a campaign called "Cassini Inspires" to celebrate the curiosity and wonder the mission has instilled in both the public and the scientific community. With this campaign, people are invited to share an original Saturn-inspired painting, music, poetry, fiction, video or other media on social media with the tag #CassiniInspires.
"It's been truly wonderful for us to feel the love for Cassini from the public,” Spilker said in the statement from NASA. "The feeling from those of us on the mission is mutual."
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Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.