Video file for media and public use. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth after its successful first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on
April 26, 2017. The spacecraft beamed back science and engineering data collected during its passage, via NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California’s Mojave Desert to Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where mission team members, family and friends were gathered to witness the events.
The DSN acquired Cassini’s signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26, 2017 (2:56 a.m. EDT on April 27) and data began flowing at 12:01 a.m. PDT (3:01 a.m. EDT) on April 27. As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) of Saturn’s cloud tops and within about 200 miles of the innermost visible edge of the rings.
For the first time ever, our Cassini spacecraft dove through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26. At 5 a.m. EDT, Cassini crossed the ring plane with its science instruments turned on and collecting data.
During this dive, the spacecraft was not in contact with Earth. The first opportunity to regain contact with the spacecraft is expected around 3 a.m. EDT on April 27.
This area between Saturn and its rings has never been explored by a spacecraft before. What we learn from these daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve.
So, you might be asking…how did this spacecraft maneuver its orbit between Saturn and its rings? Well…let us explain!
On April 22, Cassini made its 127th and final close approach to Saturn’s moon Titan. The flyby put the spacecraft on course for its dramatic last act, known as the Grand Finale.
As the spacecraft passed over Titan, the moon’s gravity bent its path, reshaping the robotic probe’s orbit slightly so that instead of passing just outside Saturn’s main rings, Cassini would begin a series of 22 dives between the rings and the planet.
With this assist, Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph with respect to Saturn.
This final chapter of exploration and discovery is in many ways like a brand-new mission. Twenty-two times, the Cassini spacecraft will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. What we learn from these ultra-close passes over the planet could be some of the most exciting revelations ever returned by the long-lived spacecraft.
Throughout these daring maneuvers, updates will be posted on social media at:
This unprocessed image shows features in Saturn’s atmosphere from closer than ever before. The view was captured by our Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive between the planet and its rings on April 26, 2017.
As Cassini dove through the gap, it came within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) of Saturn’s cloud tops (where the air pressure is 1 bar – comparable to the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level) and within about 200 miles (300 kilometers) of the innermost visible edge of the rings.
The Cassini spacecraft will begin its final series of orbits to cap a 13-year groundbreaking science mission known as the Grand Finale. For the first time ever in Cassini’s time at Saturn, the spacecraft will fly in between the planet’s rings and atmosphere. No spacecraft has ever before flown in this region of any of the solar system’s ringed planets.
After 23 orbits, Cassini will dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere September 15 where it will be destroyed. In 2008, mission managers explored a range of End of Mission scenarios that would protect Saturn’s moon’s from Earthly contaminants before ultimately deciding on atmospheric reentry.
Cassini began her End of Mission manoeuvres on November 26, 2016, when it began the first of 20 ring-grazing orbits. A close flyby of Titan April 22 will alter the spacecraft’s trajectory to begin the first of 23 orbits in the Grand Finale, which will begin April 26.
Cassini launched from Earth on October 15, 1997, and entered Saturn orbit June 30, 2004. Six months later, on January 14, 2005, the European-built Huygens probe attached to the spacecraft landed on Titan, becoming the first probe to land in the outer solar system.
Originally scheduled for a four-year mission ending in 2008, Cassini received two mission extensions in 2008 and 2010, with the latter ending in 2017. With the spacecraft’s fuel reserves low, the Cassini team decided to end the mission.
because it is. the moment you took you first breath, you became an aperture through which the whole universe expressed itself, you created a solar system
and your mercury sign is encircling your mind, darting down and orbiting your chest, swiftly flying through the air around you, leaving the streaks of whatever sign it caught at birth, your mercury in leo is a golden orb placing a crown on the mind, your mercury libra is a planet of chattering butterflies
now your sun sign is radiating from you like a beam of blinding light, shining like the rays of the sun through the archetype, releasing from the heart, the shade of your sun sign, in flickering, universal glow
your moon sign is fading in and out of your aura, cycling wildly, revealing a little, casting a shadow over you, or embalming you in lunar illumination, leaving a silky gloss, your taurus moon like cake batter over the body, immersing the moment
now imagine the planet venus orbiting around your neck, like a shimmering necklace, coating your voice in the love you have acquired for centuries, playing the tranquil music of whatever sign she emanates, your venus in pisces releasing the harp of angels
mars is pulsing through your veins circling your arteries in excitable orbit, reminding you that you are made of iron, the nutrients of all the cosmos surging through you, the energy of all the universe, your mars in gemini rotating your bloodstream like flickering lights
and jupiter is circling your thighs, the voyager, encouraging you to run far and high, to elevate into the sky, to skip alongside god’s creatures, to discover a philosophy for yourself, your jupiter in pisces giving you the legs of an old mermaid
saturn is orbiting your knees, whispering critique to stand with a better posture, but this reverberates loudly inside, you could almost cower to it, the saturn rings encircling your head like a halo, guiding you toward your ultimate potential
uranus is circling your calves, urging you to stand for something, and most importantly, stand up for yourself and your own integrity, like a buzzing electrical cable, uranus electrifies whatever sign it touches, your uranus in leo whirring like a CGI sun
and neptune is orbiting your feet, making elusive visuals, turning them into fins and tails, walking on water or on clouds, a mysterious fog exudes through whatever sign neptune is found, your neptune in scorpio radiating like a dark purple hue, a disappearing black hole
pluto is orbiting your lower stomach, reaching inside and planting the seeds of eternal regeneration and rebirth, like smoky shadows pluto appears and disappears, urging you to go inward
Reaching out into space yields benefits on Earth. Many of these have practical applications — but there’s something more than that. Call it inspiration, perhaps, what photographer Ansel Adams referred to as nature’s “endless prospect of magic and wonder."
Our ongoing exploration of the solar system has yielded more than a few magical images. Why not keep some of them close by to inspire your own explorations? This week, we offer 10 planetary photos suitable for wallpapers on your desktop or phone. Find many more in our galleries. These images were the result of audacious expeditions into deep space; as author Edward Abbey said, "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
1. Martian Selfie
This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the robotic geologist in the “Murray Buttes” area on lower Mount Sharp. Key features on the skyline of this panorama are the dark mesa called “M12” to the left of the rover’s mast and pale, upper Mount Sharp to the right of the mast. The top of M12 stands about 23 feet (7 meters) above the base of the sloping piles of rocks just behind Curiosity. The scene combines approximately 60 images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, camera at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Most of the component images were taken on September 17, 2016.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution, enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colors, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a complex geological and climatological story that scientists have only just begun to decode.
On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, our Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit, the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.
Before leaving the Pluto system forever, New Horizons turned back to see Pluto backlit by the sun. The small world’s haze layer shows its blue color in this picture. The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn’s moon Titan. The source of both hazes likely involves sunlight-initiated chemical reactions of nitrogen and methane, leading to relatively small, soot-like particles called tholins. This image was generated by combining information from blue, red and near-infrared images to closely replicate the color a human eye would perceive.
A huge storm churning through the atmosphere in Saturn’s northern hemisphere overtakes itself as it encircles the planet in this true-color view from Cassini. This picture, captured on February 25, 2011, was taken about 12 weeks after the storm began, and the clouds by this time had formed a tail that wrapped around the planet. The storm is a prodigious source of radio noise, which comes from lightning deep within the planet’s atmosphere.
Jupiter is still just as stormy today, as seen in this recent view from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, when it soared directly over Jupiter’s south pole on February 2, 2017, from an altitude of about 62,800 miles (101,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. From this unique vantage point we see the terminator (where day meets night) cutting across the Jovian south polar region’s restless, marbled atmosphere with the south pole itself approximately in the center of that border. This image was processed by citizen scientist John Landino. This enhanced color version highlights the bright high clouds and numerous meandering oval storms.
X-rays stream off the sun in this image showing observations from by our Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, overlaid on a picture taken by our Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The NuSTAR data, seen in green and blue, reveal solar high-energy emission. The high-energy X-rays come from gas heated to above 3 million degrees. The red channel represents ultraviolet light captured by SDO, and shows the presence of lower-temperature material in the solar atmosphere at 1 million degrees.
This image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows Victoria crater, near the equator of Mars. The crater is approximately half a mile (800 meters) in diameter. It has a distinctive scalloped shape to its rim, caused by erosion and downhill movement of crater wall material. Since January 2004, the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been operating in the region where Victoria crater is found. Five days before this image was taken in October 2006, Opportunity arrived at the rim of the crater after a drive of more than over 5 miles (9 kilometers). The rover can be seen in this image, as a dot at roughly the “ten o'clock” position along the rim of the crater. (You can zoom in on the full-resolution version here.)
Last, but far from least, is this remarkable new view of our home planet. Last week, we released new global maps of Earth at night, providing the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet. This composite image, one of three new full-hemisphere views, provides a view of the Americas at night from the NASA-NOAA Suomi-NPP satellite. The clouds and sun glint — added here for aesthetic effect — are derived from MODIS instrument land surface and cloud cover products.