NASA's Cassini spacecraft is in the final 18 months of its historic Saturn mission to the ringed gas giant, so we'll soon be losing our "live" view of the enigmatic planet - even though Cassini data will keep scientists busy for the years and decades to come.
By having a long-duration mission in orbit around Saturn, we've been incredibly lucky to see long-term seasonal changes. As this Feb. 19 image shows, Saturn's northern hemisphere is currently approaching summer solstice and its north pole is bathed in sunlight.
PHOTOS: In The Raw: Cassini's Ongoing Saturn Moon Odyssey
As highlighted by the NASA image release, this particular observation is different in that the image appears askew, with north tilted 20 degrees to the right. Usually, images of Saturn show the world oriented with its north pole pointing "up" and its rings as a horizontal band. But in this case, as the terminator (the line separating daytime and nighttime) is so slanted because of the season, mission scientists decided to release this "tilted" view.
In the full-resolution version, one of Saturn's moons Dione can be seen in the lower left-hand portion of the observation. Cassini was 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers) from Saturn, 7 degrees above the planet's ring plane.
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In the remaining months of Cassini's mission, the spacecraft will soon be commanded to make a series of maneuvers that will fling the spacecraft through the planet's ring plane, beginning the mission's "Grand Finale" that is planned to end with a fiery encounter with the gas giant's upper atmosphere in September 2017. So enjoy these kinds of observations while you can; there's currently no solid plans to return to Saturn orbit in the foreseeable future.
Whenever I see new observations from Saturn orbit, I'm reminded of this atmospheric combination of raw Cassini images blended with Nine Inch Nails' "Track: 2 Ghosts I, Ghosts I – IV" by Chris Abbas - enjoy: