Sophia Nasr/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Cassini Just Sent Back Images From Its First-Ever Dive Through Saturn's Rings, And They're Incredible

Holy crap.

SARAH KAPLAN, WASHINGTON POST
29 APR 2017
 

Scientists just got their first glimpse into the space between Saturn and its rings. And it's pretty stunning.

On Wednesday, the NASA space probe Cassini performed the first of 22 planned dives through the rings around the planet.

 

No human-made object had ever ventured so far into those swirling bands of ice and dust particles.

Cassini1NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini was traveling at speeds of 77,000 mph through regions thick with potentially destructive particles. It had to use its dish-shaped antenna as a shield, preventing any communication with Earth during the dive.

Cassini2NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini3NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

All day, scientists anxiously awaited confirmation that their brave little space robot had made it through.

 

Just before midnight Pacific time, the Deep Space Network (a group of telescopes that communicate with distant objects in space) picked up Cassini's far-off signal.

Cassini4NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A massive cheer went up at ground control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as data began streaming the billion miles back to Earth. Cassini had made it through the gap and emerged safely on the other side.

In September, the spacecraft's last dive will have it plummeting straight into Saturn itself, and the probe will be lost forever. But until then, Cassini's 'grand finale' promises to deliver some incredible images and some fascinating science.

 

The raw images from the latest dive are being posted on NASA's website as they stream in. Here's some of what Cassini has seen:

Cassini5NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini6NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini7NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini8NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini9NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini10NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini11NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini12NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

2017 © Washington Post

This article was originally published by the Washington Post.

Update 30 April 2017: ScienceAlert added a header image for this story without properly crediting the photographer, astroparticle physicist Sophia Nasr. We apologise for the error and have amended the credit now. Properly attributing scientists and aritsts is one of our site's core values and we're investigating what went wrong in this situation.

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