Crashing Into Saturn: This Cassini Mission Is the Most Epic Yet


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.

This image shows a still from the short film "Cassini's Grand".

When that image was released in 2013, the Two-Way wrote, "Earth and all its trillions of creatures are seen as a speck of light - lower right - in the vastness of space".

The gap between the planet and its rings "is a region no spacecraft has ever explored", NASA said.

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We did it! Cassini is in contact with Earth and sending back data after a successful dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings.

As a protective measure, the spacecraft used its large, dish-shaped high-gain antenna (13 feet or 4 meters across) as a shield, orienting it in the direction of oncoming ring particles. "We won't know for a number of hours until Cassini gets in a position where it can radio back home, and so that's one of those things that keeps us on pins and needles".

As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) of Saturn's cloud tops (where the air pressure is 1 bar - comparable to the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level) and within about 200 miles (300 kilometers) of the innermost visible edge of the rings.

"We're all crossing our fingers saying, "Oh, geez, I hope we hear from it" - and we will", added guidance and control engineer Joan Stupik.

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With NASA's Cassini now moving in and out of Saturn's rings, there will be a wealth of information still available to learn.

But it was Cassini's first close-up survey of the planet and its system of rings and moons in 2004 that changed scientists' understanding of the planet and forever changed our approach to planetary exploration. Instead, about a dozen regions of the ring stand out as noticeably brighter than the rest of the ring, while about half a dozen regions are devoid of ring material.

The spacecraft will make detailed maps of Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields, revealing how the planet is arranged internally, and possibly helping to solve the irksome mystery of just how fast Saturn is rotating. During its past year in operation, Cassini is performing the closest study of the rings and offering unprecedented views of moons that orbit near them.

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