Cassini Just Sent Back Images From Its First-Ever Dive Through Saturn’s Rings

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Cassini’s final chapter of its journey – the grand finale enters in the first phase. The spacecraft just sent back stunning photos from its first-ever dive through Saturn’s rings. Nasa’s Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna in Goldstone, California, managed to re-establish communications with Cassini at 07:56 BST on Thursday, after almost 22 hours of silence.

“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 Headquarters.

On Wednesday, the NASA space probe Cassini performed the first of 22 planned dives through the Saturn’s rings. During the next five months, Cassini will dive between Saturn and its rings until the 15th September, when it will plunge into Saturn, melting and vaporizing until becoming a part of the planet itself.

During Wednesday’s pass through, Cassini traveled at 70,000-plus mph through the 1,200-mile-wide-gap between Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings. As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within about 1,900 miles of Saturn’s cloud tops, and within about 200 miles of the innermost visible edge of the rings.

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During the dive, communication with Earth was cut short because Cassini had to use its dish-shaped antenna as a shield. In a meanwhile scientists anxiously awaited confirmation that this brilliant spacecraft had made it through. Finally, Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California’s Mojave Desert successfully acquired Cassini’s signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26, 2017 (2:56 a.m. EDT on April 27) and data began flowing at 12:01 a.m. PDT (3:01 a.m. EDT) on April 27.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

“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. 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.

We just got the first glimpse into the space between Saturn and its rings.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini’s next dive through the gap is scheduled for May 2.

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