A major discovery near Saturn's rings by NASA's Cassini probe could be a gigantic breakthrough in the search for life in our solar system.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is nearing its end as it plunges toward Saturn’s atmosphere, and it has sent back some stunning images that are the closest ever views of the outer edges of the solar system’s second largest planet. The images show that Cassini has managed to survive its rough journey so far, and they depict a dark, swirling hurricane-like storm that NASA is calling a “giant hurricane.”
Cassini took the pictures just 1,900 miles from the cloud tops of Saturn, and within 200 miles of the ring’s innermost edge. The video from NASA about Cassini’s first dive between Saturn and its rings is embedded at the bottom of this post.
The spacecraft blasted through Saturn’s rings at 77,000 miles per hour, relative to the planet’s speed. Normally, those tiny particles would have caused damage to Cassini at that speed, but the spacecraft was able to use its antenna as a shield.
“The spacecraft made its first dive through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26,” the NASA statement reads. “Because that gap is a region no spacecraft has ever explored, Cassini used its dish-shaped high-gain antenna (13 feet or 4 meters across) as a protective shield while passing through the ring plane. No particles larger than smoke particles were expected, but the precautionary measure was taken on the first dive. The Cassini team will use data collected by one of the spacecraft’s science instruments (the Radio and Plasma Wave Subsystem, or RPWS) to ascertain the size and density of ring particles in the gap in advance of future dives. As a result of its antenna-forward orientation, the spacecraft will be out of contact with Earth during the dive.”