Cassini Craft Beams Closest Images Ever Taken Of Saturn

These two dives-between-saturn-and-its-rings/" target="_blank">images show banding and cloud features in Saturn's atmosphere.

Images captured by Cassini spacecraft during its first "Grand Finale" dive past the planet have also been published.

About 10 minutes later, another set of signals confirmed that Cassini was beaming science and engineering data across more than 750 million miles of space from the Saturn system to Earth.

NASA's Cassini mission has forayed into a region where no spacecraft has ever ventured before - between Saturn and its rings.

During these orbits, Cassini's cameras will take ultra-close images of Saturn, its rings and the mysterious north polar hexagon, which will help us build on our knowledge about the planet and its turbulent storms.

"I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape", said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

All went according to the plan, Maize said, adding that after its dive, the craft that's now been in space for almost 20 years "has come out the other side in excellent shape".

Saturn's C ring isn't uniformly bright, as seen from the spacecraft Cassini.

The spacecraft zipped through this region at speeds of about 77,000 miles per hour so small particles hitting a sensitive area could potentially have disabled the spacecraft, the statement said.

In its first dive Wednesday morning around 5 a.m., Cassini used its high-gain antenna as a protective shield as it passed through the ring plane.

If Cassini survives the trip, it could make radio contact with Earth as early as 3:05am (07:05 GMT) on April 27. Even more dramatic orbits ahead will bring Cassini closer to Saturn than any spacecraft has dared to go before. Kurth says they've angled the craft to scoot between Saturn's rings and the atmosphere for a total of 22 orbits.

On April 26 2017 she will enter into the final stage of her mission, diving between Saturn and it's rings, a manoeuvre that has never before been attempted.

"While it's always sad when a mission comes to an end, Cassini's finale plunge is a truly spectacular end for one of the most scientifically rich voyages yet undertaken in our solar system".

Cassini is running low on fuel, and will make a death plunge into Saturn's surface on September 15.

"The gap between Saturn and its rings is no longer unexplored space - and we're going back 21 times", NASA tweeted from the Cassini mission's official Twitter account. The rest of Cassini's unprocessed photos from the crossing are available online, along with more than 380,000 images documenting the spacecraft's journey, starting months before it arrived at Saturn in 2004.

Cassini will complete 21 more dives before its Grand Finale plunge and burn-up in Saturn's atmosphere September 15 - its next dive is May 2.


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