NASA's Cassini spacecraft has for the first time passed between the upper layer of Saturn's atmosphere and the planet's rings, the space agency said Thursday. In order to protect itself, the spacecraft performed the dive with its large dish antenna facing forward, acting as a shield protecting the instruments aboard.
The mission was out of radio contact with Earth as it plunged into Saturn's rings on Wednesday.
To ensure the probe does not someday crash into a moon like Enceladus, where a subsurface ocean may provide an abode for life, NASA managers made a decision to put Cassini on a trajectory that will culminate in a mission-ending plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15. "Maybe a comet or a moon got too close, got torn apart by Saturn's gravity and we have the rings that we see today". There will be no contact with Cassini before that. The information could help scientists find the source of Saturn's magnetic field, determine how fast the gas giant rotates and figure out what lies beneath its layers of clouds. Once inside, Cassini will complete 22 ring gap orbits before making the final leap and diving into Saturn's atmosphere. "It's truly discovery in action until the very end". "There's definitely some things we don't know - but that's one of the reasons we're doing risky research like this at the end of the mission".
This combination of April 26, 2017 images show features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before.
The debris move at a speed of about 67,800 miles (109,000 kilometers) per hour.
Senior WH Official: 'Military Preparations' Are Underway for N.Korea
They described North Korea as an "urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority", supplanting the Islamic State. NSC leaders now are focusing on big-picture strategy rather than "tactical details", the senior administration official said.
Trump congratulates NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson
Trump spoke at length with the record-breaking astronaut during the 20-minute "Earth-to-space" call session. By the time she returns to Earth in September, she will have logged 666 days in orbit over three flights.
Turkey Arrests More Than a 1000 in Latest Raids
The Turkish parliament just ahead of the referendum extended the state of emergency by another three months to 19 July. The latest raids targeted "secret imams" suspected of being part of a Gulen network that infiltrated the police force.
According to NASA, it's necessary to destroy Cassini because it is running low on rocket fuel, meaning operators on Earth will eventually lose control of the spacecraft anyway.
Here you can see a cyclone spinning in Saturn's atmosphere.
From hot to cold: The colors show the unusual temperature patterns on Saturn's Mimas and Thetys moons.
Cassini took more images than this, though. At its nearest point, Cassini flew about 1,900 miles above Saturn's clouds, which are mainly comprised of hydrogen and helium. This means that life on the satellite would theoretically be possible.
Apparently, Cassini is more or less unscathed by its initial plunge, a far cry from the premature death many on the team had feared.
An illustration of the Cassini spacecraft over Saturn's north pole with its hexagon-shaped storm.
Here is a look at a selection of the most incredible new raw images sent back to Earth.
Preston Dyches, a spokesperson for NASA JPL, said Cassini might have been able larger, more detailed images, but the team opted for lower quality on goal.