New Video Shows Cassini Spacecraft’s First Dive Over Saturn

Posted: May 6 2017, 1:01pm CDT | by , Updated: May 6 2017, 1:04pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
New Video Shows Cassini Spacecraft’s First Dive Over Saturn
Image taken during the first dive over Saturn on April 27. Credit: NASA/JPL-Calte

The stunning movie makes viewers feel as they are flying over the Saturn's surface

While NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is preparing for its third dive over Saturn, the team has compiled a stunning video of the first plunge between Saturn and its rings.

An hour-long video shows scenes from Saturn’s southward region as the spacecraft flies over its surface – starting with a view of the swirling vortex at the planet's north pole and leading up to the outer boundary of the six-sided jet stream hexagon and beyond. The sequence of the images makes viewers feel as if they are divining into the Saturn's atmosphere.

“I was surprised to see so many sharp edges along the hexagon's outer boundary and the eye-wall of the polar vortex," said Kunio Sayanagi from Cassini imaging team who helped create the new movie. "Something must be keeping different latitudes from mixing to maintain those edges.”

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has entered the final phase of its epic voyage after spending nearly 20 years in space. The final phase – called the Grand Finale – is based on the 22 repeated dives through the gap between Saturn and its innermost rings. The gap is only about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) wide and has not been explored by any spacecraft before.

Cassini made its first dive on April 27. During the dive, the spacecraft dropped from 72,400 kilometers to 6,700 kilometers above the Saturn’s clouds.

“The images from the first pass were great, but we were conservative with the camera settings. We plan to make updates to our observations for a similar opportunity on June 29 that we think will result in even better views.” Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team based at Caltech said.

The conclusion of the historic mission is planned for September 2017. The spacecraft will be destroyed into the Saturn’s atmosphere but not before making the closest ever observations of the planet, its structure and the total mass of its rings. Cassini is also programmed to collect direct samples of particles in the main rings of Saturn and the outer reaches of planet’s atmosphere.

Cassini performed its second dive on May 2. The spacecraft is in the process of beaming data collected during that plunge, while third dive is scheduled for May 9. Researchers are hoping that Cassini will send back hundreds of images of Saturn and its rings that show how fascinating their surfaces are.

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