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Saturn's north pole photographed by Cassini earlier this year and released yesterday.

Before it ends its mission to Saturn by intentionally hurling itself into the planet's atmosphere on Sept. 15, the Cassini spacecraft will complete a series of measurements announced today by NASA.

  • Sept. 11: Flyby of Saturn's moon Titan that will put the spacecraft into its final plunge.
  • Sept. 13 and 14: Final photos taken (including of Earth and the very last will be of the propellers) and transmitted to Earth.
  • Sept. 14 and 15: Eight onboard instruments will be sampling the upper atmosphere of Saturn during the final plunge.
  • Early morning Sept. 15: Loss of signal about 950 miles above Saturn's cloud tops. Seconds later it will melt from temperatures of 200 - 500°C.

Greatest hits since entering Saturn's orbit 13 years ago:

  • Hydrogen plumes on Enceladus, which could conceivably support life. "Enceladus has no business existing and yet there it is screaming...'I completely invalidate all of your assumptions about the solar system,'" Cassini program scientist Curt Niebur said in today's press conference.
  • Images of Titan, which Cassini confirmed has methane seas and rivers on its surface.
  • Bonus: Last week, NASA released a series of photos taken by Cassini on Aug. 20 looking out from gap between Saturn and its rings:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.