Photos: 10 breathtaking images from Cassini’s ground-breaking mission of studying Saturn

On Friday, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, marking the end of a historic mission.

For over 13 years, Cassini orbited Saturn taking over 300,000 photos, sending back 635 GB of scientific data and traveling billions of miles.

Cassini has exceeded its intended mission by years but is running dangerously low on fuel. To prevent the spacecraft from accidentally crash landing on one of Saturn’s moons, potentially contaminating it with microbes from Earth hitching a ride aboard the spacecraft, NASA decided to end the mission by having it burn up while entering the planet’s atmosphere.

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Cassini crash lands on Saturn
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Director of Planetary Science, NASA, Jim Green (L), Cassini Project Manager, Earl Maize, and Cassini Project Scientist, Linda Spilker, address a news conference at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as NASA's Cassini spacecraft nears the end of its 20-year mission by crashing into Saturn, on September 13, 2017 in Pasadena, California. It took Cassini seven years to reach Saturn after its 1997 launch where it has been exploring the ringed planet and its many moons for the past 13 years. It will continue to transmit data and never before seen photos to Earth for as long as possible before breaking up and crashing. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Cassini Project Scientist, Linda Spilker (L), Cassini Project Manager, Earl Maize, and Director of Planetary Science, NASA, Jim Green (R), address a news conference at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as NASA's Cassini spacecraft nears the end of its 20-year mission by crashing into Saturn, on September 13, 2017 in Pasadena, California. It took Cassini seven years to reach Saturn after its 1997 launch where it has been exploring the ringed planet and its many moons for the past 13 years. It will continue to transmit data and never before seen photos to Earth for as long as possible before breaking up and crashing. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A model of the Cassini spacecraft is seen at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) September 13, 2017 in Pasadena, California. Cassini's 20-year mission to study Saturn will end on September 15, 2017 when the spacecraft burns up after intentionally plunging in the ringed planet's atmosphere in what NASA is calling 'The Grand Finale.' / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Cassini science team members Nora Alonge (R), Scott Edgington (C) and Jo Pitesky (L) hug as the final loss of signal from the Cassini spacecraft is confirmed, indicating Cassini's destruction in Saturn's atmosphere and the end of Cassini's 20-year mission to gain a better understanding of the ringed planet and its icy moons, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on September 15, 2017 . Within moments of loss of signal the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere where it will burn up and disappear in what NASA is calling The Grand Finale. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The spacecraft Cassini is pictured above Saturn's northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives in this NASA handout illustration obtained by Reuters August 29, 2017. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Cassini science team members Nora Alonge (R) and Jo Pitesky (L) react as the final loss of signal from the Cassini spacecraft is confirmed, indicating Cassini's destruction in Saturn's atmosphere and the end of Cassini's 20-year mission to gain a better understanding of the ringed planet and its icy moons, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on September 15, 2017 . Within moments of loss of signal the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere where it will burn up and disappear in what NASA is calling The Grand Finale. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
NASA Director of Planetary Science Jim Green (L), Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize (2L), Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker (2R) and Hunter Waite, (R), team lead for Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer, speak at a news briefing for the end of the Cassini mission to Saturn, September 13, 2017 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The Cassini mission will end on September 15, 2017 when the spacecraft burns up after intentionally plunging in the ringed planet's atmosphere. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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Cassini was not alone on its journey across the solar system as the Huygens probe went along for the ride. This probe explored Saturn’s moon Titan, which is larger than Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere.

Although Cassini will burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere, its scientific findings will live on, providing scientists with a wealth of data that will help to pave the way for future missions.

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10 breathtaking images from Cassini's mission
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10 breathtaking images from Cassini's mission

1. Cassini's launch

On Oct. 15, 1997, Cassini lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and began its seven-year journey to Saturn. The early morning launch lit up the sky and was the first leg of its 2.2 billion-mile journey to Saturn. (Photo/NASA)

2. Saturn before arrival

Cassini arrived at Saturn on July 1, 2004, burning its main engine to slow down and be captured by Saturn’s gravity. However, the spacecraft began photographing the planet before this, including the photo above which was taken on May 7, 2004. (Photo/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

3. In the shadow of Saturn

On several occasions in Cassini’s 294 orbits around Saturn, the ringed gas giant eclipsed the sun giving the spacecraft the perfect opportunity to photograph the planet from a unique angle. “This marvelous panoramic view was created by combining a total of 165 images taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006,” NASA said. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

4. Storm erupts on Saturn

In 2011, Cassini photographed a massive storm that erupted on Saturn, which lasted for several months. “This storm is the largest, most intense storm observed on Saturn by NASA’s Voyager or Cassini spacecraft,” NASA said. (Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

5. Saturn's famous rings

Cassini took thousands of photos of Saturn’s dazzling rings and, in its final orbits, flew between the small gap between the planet and its rings. During its mission, it discovered new rings that were previously too faint to detect. (Photo/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

6. Many moons of Saturn

Before Cassini arrived at Saturn, scientists information about its many moons was limited. The long duration of the mission allowed Cassini to study the moons in greater detail, such as Tethys which has a surface comprised of ice. (Photo/NASA/JPL)

7. First photos from Titan

The Huygens probe, built and operated by the European Space Agency, traveled to Saturn with Cassini and was sent to explore Titan. By landing on Titan, Huygens became the only manmade object to land on a body in the outer solar system. (Photo/ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

8. The icy moon Enceladus

Enceladus is one of Saturn’s more fascinating moons, covered in a thick layer of ice. Cassini helped to compile evidence of liquid water under the ice, opening the possibility for life to exist. (Photo/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

9. Enceladus' plumes of water

Within a year of arriving at Saturn, Cassini captured images of plumes of water vapor jetting out from near the moon’s south pole. The spacecraft photographed this occurrence on many occasions and, near the end of its mission, flew through the plumes to help collect data on their chemical composition. (Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

10. The aurora glows above Saturn

The aurora is a natural phenomenon that occurs on many planets across the solar system, including Saturn. Cassini captured several images showing the green glow of the aurora over Saturn’s south pole in 2007. (Photo/NASA/JPL/ASI/University of Arizona/University of Leicester)

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