dglobalnews.com Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st
Published: Fri, April 28, 2017
Research | By Kayla Price

Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st

Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st

"No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before", he said.

Cassini made the first of its 22 dives into Saturn's rings, an event that Google celebrated by releasing a Doodle.

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.

Cassini was out of contact as it began its journey into the gap because the spacecraft's dish antenna was used as a shield to protect it from possible damage from ring particles.

The unmanned Cassini is back in radio contact with Earth after entering the gap Wednesday in the first mission of its kind.

Venturing between the planet and its rings for the first time represents "a unsafe moment for the mission", Luciano Iess, Cassini team member at Italy's Sapienza University of Rome, said at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

The unprocessed images show features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has survived its unprecedented dive between Saturn and its innermost rings, sending back data that includes photos providing the closest look yet at the planet's atmosphere.

Launched nearly two decades ago, Cassini will have orbited Saturn for more than 13 years by the time the mission ends in September.

Cassini zoomed as close as 1,900 miles to Saturn's cloud tops and within about 200 miles of the innermost visible edge of the rings, at a relative speed of 77,000 mph, NASA reported in an update early today.

Image NASA  JPL-CALTECH  SSCI
Image NASA JPL-CALTECH SSCI

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We look forward to more hauntingly attractive photos from Saturn's atmosphere over the coming weeks; we'll take whatever we can get until Cassini becomes a ghost itself.

That's when the probe will be sent deliberately to crash through Saturn's dense atmosphere.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft moving between Saturn and its rings.

Early story from Scientific America: Running low on fuel, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun the final - and most daring - phase of its epic mission to Saturn. NASA's Cassini will draw its last breath as it eventually breaks up and melts completely and becomes part of Saturn.

"One of the things we can do with the rings is, in the grand finale orbits, for the first time address the question of the origin and the age of the rings", said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL.

The search for Earth-like planets is "one of the greatest questions of our time", an interdisciplinary effort that requires the input of researchers in biology, heliophysics, Earth science, astronomy, planetary science, and astrophysics, the scientist told the US House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology. "We'll do this by measuring the mass of the rings very accurately".

Cassini mission project manager Earle Maise said the risk puts them at a 97 percent chance of success.

"If the rings are massive, this means that they are old". "Saturn continues to surprise us".

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