Cassini sends first images from dive between Saturn and rings
29 April, 2017, 20:24 | Author: Lorena Waters
Cassini was able to send back data to Earth successfully earlier in the week.
"No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before". The rings are made up of countless icy particles, any of which could have smacked Cassini.
"Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare", National Aeronautics and Space Administration planetary sciences chief Jim Green said in a statement. Mission directors were confident that the probe would make it through Saturn's rings safely.
During its dive, Cassini passed through a gap between Saturn and its rings that was 1,500 miles (2,000 km) wide, traveling at speeds of approximately 77,000 mph (124,000 km/hour) relative to the planet. "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 Earl Maize, Cassini project manager of NASA'sJet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
These rings are made up of very fast-moving particles of space debris and ice that have the potential of striking and disabling the spacecraft.
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Cassini will attempt 21 more close encounters to learn about how Saturn's rings formed and what lies beneath the gas giant's layers of clouds.
Cassini skimmed 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) above Saturn's cloud tops, closer than ever before, and came within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of the innermost visible ring.
Cassini is travelling through the gap at a relative speed of about some 77,000 miles per hour (124,000 kph) so even small particles striking the spacecraft can be deadly.
Cassini was launched in October 1997 and entered into Saturn's orbit in 2004. It had to use its dish-shaped antenna as a shield, preventing any communication with Earth during the dive.
While risky, this 4 1/2-month grand finale is expected to yield a treasure trove of science. In order to avoid the risks of spacecraft, crashing into Saturn's moons like Enceladus and damaging and polluting then, NASA has planned to destroy its iconic Cassini by diving it into the atmosphere of Saturn.
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