NASA’s Cassini sent back home the closest images of Saturn even as it survived its first plunge into the planet’s rings.
Cassini transmitted back to Earth several pictures that showed Saturn’s massive hurricane, swirling clouds and an odd six-sided weather cycle, which has used the past 13 years to explore.
As the spacecraft made its final laps around Saturn, it went through a narrow path between the planet and innermost ring, a place Cassini has never accessed before. This was the closest view we had of the planet and gave as an insight of the unexplored territory.
Details Never Seen Before
One of the project’s science engineers, Jo Pitesky, said that they are excited by the new advancement.
The scientists said that the pictures have enabled them get details that they have never seen in the past. Mr. Pitesky said that since day one of the ambitious project, it’s now 13 years down the line and Saturn continues to surprise them.
It is expected that Cassini will continue sending images of the small inner moons and provide and provide insight of the auroras, clouds, winds and gravity. With such information, it may be possible to pinpoint the origin of Saturn’s magnetic field, calculate the speed at which it rotates and know more about the contents lying between the cloud layers.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration planetary sciences chief Jim Green said that “Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare.”
Will Cassini survive all its Ring Drives?
Scientists cannot explicitly tell whether or not Cassini will be able to complete all its ring drives. Saturn is separated from its rings with a 2,400 km gap and the space is likely packed with ice particles.
The spacecraft is travelling at 124,000 Kph relative to the planet and thus the slightest of all particles may turn out catastrophic. It survived its first encounter as a result of a shielding curved out of Cassini’s dish-shaped communications antenna.
More of these maneuvers are yet to be made, with the next one scheduled to happen on Tuesday.
“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 Earl Maize, Cassini project manager and a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
NASA is planned to make its final lap around the planet by driving directly into Saturn’s crushing atmosphere.