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:
<b><p></b> <b><p></b> <b>Person A:</b> You're like a beautiful gazelle<p/><b>Person B:</b> You're like a cute rat<p/><b>Person A:</b> Literally any other animal...<p/><b>Person B:</b> Lobster<p/><b>Person A:</b> that is the unsexiest animal<p/></p><p/></p><p/></p>
When Galileo Galilei was observing Saturn in the 1600s, he noticed strange objects on each side of the planet. He drew in his notes a triple-bodied planet system with ears. These “ears” were later discovered to be the rings of Saturn.
2. Solar System Status
Saturn orbits our sun and is the sixth planet from the sun at an average distance of about 886 million miles or 9.5 AU.
3. Short Days
Time flies when you’re on Saturn. One day on Saturn takes just 10.7 hours (the time it takes for Saturn to rotate or spin once). The planet makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Saturnian time) in 29 Earth years, or 10,756 Earth days. saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/2955/measuring-a-day
4. No Shoes Necessary
That’s because you can’t stand on Saturn—it’s a gas-giant planet and doesn’t have a solid surface. But you might want a jacket. The planet’s temperatures can dip to -220 degrees F.
5. Few visitors
Only a handful of missions have made their way to Saturn: Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and Cassini-Huygens, which is there now. Since 2004, Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its moons and rings—but will complete its journey on Sept. 15, 2017.
Saturn’s spectacular ring system is made up of seven rings with several gaps and divisions between them. From now until September, the Cassini spacecraft is performing a set of daring dives every week between the planet and the rings. No other mission has ever explored this unique region before, and what we learn from these final orbits will help us understand of how giant planets—and planetary systems everywhere—form and evolve.
8. Many, Many Moons
Saturn has a total of 62 moons: 53 known moons, with an additional nine moons awaiting confirmation.
Saturn can’t support life as we know it, but some of its moons have conditions that might support life. Ocean worlds could be the answer to life in space and two of Saturn’s moons—Titan and Enceladus—are on that list.
Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week about the solar system HERE.
Labeled top to bottom, the tiny pinpricks of light above bright Jupiter are the four Galilean moons; Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, and Io. Callisto, Ganymede, and Io are physically larger than Earth’s Moon, while water world Europa is only slightly smaller. In fact, of the Solar System’s six largest planetary satellites, only Saturn’s moon Titan is missing from the scene.