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Jaw-Dropping Views of Saturn Cap 2013 for NASA's Cassini Spacecraft (Photos)

Winter Blues on Saturn
The spectacular rings of Saturn cast dark shadows on the ringed planet as the winter season approaches in Saturn's southern hemisphere in this view from the Cassini spacecraft. With the cold season comes a blue hue on Saturn that is likely caused by a drop in ultraviolet sunlight and haze it produces. This image was taken on July 29, 2013 and released on Dec. 23. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute )

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has capped 2013 with a spectacular new collection of Saturn photos showcasing the planet's beauty, as well with its trademark rings and strange moons.

The newly released Saturn photos by Cassini include two views of Enceladus, Saturn's sixth-largest moon. Enceladus is a winter-appropriate ice world. Geysers at its poles shoot ice particles into space, some of which make it into orbit around Saturn. Some of this space "snow" becomes part of Saturn's E ring, Saturn's second outermost ring that is made of microscopic particles.

Other images highlight Saturn's largest moon, Titan. There are no jolly elves at Titan's north pole; liquid methane and ethane seas appear as splotchy features near the moon's poles. At the south pole, a high-altitude vortex swirls. The hazy orange atmosphere of Titan is thought to resemble the atmosphere of early Earth. [See all of the new Saturn photos by Cassini here]

The globe of Saturn, seen here in natural color, is reminiscent of a holiday ornament in this wide-angle view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The characteristic hexagonal shape of Saturn's northern jet stream, somewhat yellow here, is visible. At the pole lies a Saturnian version of a high-speed hurricane, eye and all. This image was taken on July 22, 2013 and released on Dec. 23. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Saturn itself is the celestial tree-topper of this trio, with a wide-angle look at its north pole revealing the planet's hexagonal jet stream and its spinning polar vortex.

Saturn's largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, appear to be stacked on top of each other in this true-color scene from NASA's Cassini spacecraft released on Dec. 23, 2013. The north polar hood can be seen on Titan appearing as a detached layer at the top of the moon on the top right. This view looks toward the Saturn-facing side of the smaller Rhea. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute )

"Until Cassini arrived at Saturn, we didn't know about the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan, the active drama of Enceladus' jets, and the intricate patterns at Saturn's poles," Linda Spiller, the Cassini project scientist at NASA Jet's Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement on Dec. 23. "Spectacular images like these highlight that Cassini has given us the gift of knowledge, which we have been so excited to share with everyone."

Saturn's moon Enceladus, covered in snow and ice, resembles a perfectly packed snowball in this image from NASA's Cassini mission released on Dec. 23, 2013. This view was taken by Cassini on March 10, 2012. It shows the leading side of Enceladus. North on Enceladus is up and rotated 6 degrees to the left. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute )

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived at Saturn launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Cassini orbits Saturn, while Huygens, a lander, touched down on Titan in 2005. In July, Cassini beamed back an amazing image of Saturn's rings with Earth as a tiny pinpoint of light in the background.

Cassini's mission is expected to continue through at least 2017, after which it will be decommissioned by a controlled fall through Saturn's atmosphere.

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Stephanie Pappas
Stephanie Pappas

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.