Cassini's Incredible 'Last Image' of Saturn Before Fiery Death is Actually Fake

Saturn's silvery rings burst from a bed of hazy, golden clouds in an incredible image doing the rounds online. The picture is supposedly the last ever produced by NASA's Cassini craft before it fell into the planet's atmosphere and disintegrated.

Unfortunately, the stunning snapshot is really just concept art released by NASA back in April 2017, months before Cassini's actual demise. Although the fact a spacecraft can send image data back from three planets away is still pretty impressive, the final pictures themselves aren't quite so majestic.

Cassini's real final pictures (below) show what would become the spacecraft's grave—the impact site in Saturn's atmosphere through which the probe would plunge. The planet's iconic rings slice through the bottom of the image below a hazy nighttime view of the gas giant.

A little blurry and a little dim, the images are still an incredible window into the final hours of an orbiter that flew through space for almost 20 years.

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Views of Cassini's impending grave are captured before the craft plunged to its death. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Cassini-Huygens mission took about seven years to reach the ringed planet. Made up of NASA's Cassini orbiter and the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, it gathered data that transformed our understanding of Saturn and its moons, and even gave us a tantalizing glimpse of Jupiter.

One of Cassini's most exciting revelations came in 2006, when scientists announced they had discovered evidence for liquid water on Saturn's moon, Enceladus. More than a decade of subsequent research into the strange satellite has fuelled speculation it could harbor alien life.

The last leg of Cassini's journey, dubbed the "Grand Finale" by NASA, saw the craft dip between the planet and its rings 22 times before plummeting to its death in the skies of Saturn.

Over its lifetime, Cassini's raw images provided the ingredients for a stunning window into Saturn and its moons. The spacecraft revealed the planet's rings like never before, and even captured the gas giant's dancing aurora in motion.

It's unclear how future investigations into the ringed planet will look. But there are plenty of exciting missions to other planets on the horizon. The European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are set to launch a mission to Mercury later this year. In November, NASA's InSight craft is set to land on Mars, and in 2021, the Red Planet is set to welcome another trundling explorer to its dusty surface—the ExoMars Rover.