Cassini Spacecraft Shares Stunning Images from Inside Saturn’s Rings

May 1, 2017

The Cassini spacecraft is on the last leg of its mission, and it’s definitely going out in style. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn, its moons, and its rings. The craft is also responsible for the recent discovery that Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus could hold the potential for life within our solar system. So it’s no surprise that this incredible spacecraft managed to capture brilliant photos in its swan song mission.

[Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute]

Thanks to Cassini, we now have our first look ever at the gap between Saturn and its rings.

[Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute]

“In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA.

“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “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.”

Cassini dove through the gap and came within 1,900 miles (3,000 km) of Saturn’s upper atmosphere. The gap between the planet and its rings is roughly 1,500 miles (2,000 wide). Cassini whizzed through the area at roughly 77,000 mph (124,000 kph). The NASA team prepared Cassini a bit extra to protect against collision.

[Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute]

NASA officials were confident that Cassini would make it through the first round. However, Cassini will make another 21 dives before crashing spectacularly in its grand finale. In those 21 dives, Cassini will cruise through rings made up of small rocks and particles that could easily damage the spacecraft at such a high speed. Engineers will hope to use the data to determine if they’d need to protect future spacecraft on future ring crossings.

Cassini launched in 1997, and it’s been orbiting Saturn since July 2004. Its next dive through the gap is set for May 2, and more incredible photos are to be expected.

SEE ALSO: NASA Announces Alien Life Could Exist on Saturn’s Icy Moon Enceladus


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