You have no idea how incredible this new image of Saturn from NASA is, and what it means for our understanding of our solar system's second largest planet.
NASA has just snapped an astonishing new photo, thanks to the Cassini spacecraft that is about to plunge to its death into the atmosphere of Saturn. The image is the closest picture we’ve ever gotten of the solar system’s second largest planet, taken from just 1,900 miles from the cloud tops of Saturn, or less than the distance between Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Video from NASA on the spacecraft’s incredible descent is embedded at the bottom of this post.
The image shows a huge, pitch-black swirling giant hurricane. Scientists wondered if they would get an image this close to the planet, as because Cassini was speeding at 77,000 miles per hour through dust and particles in Saturn’s rings, there was a good chance they would never hear from the probe again. But lo and behold, the sturdy spacecraft sent back at least one more trove of data to us back on Earth.
Cassini doesn’t have long to live, but scientists are still hopeful they can get more images from the spacecraft before its demise. Its huge antenna probably allowed it to survive the rings acting as a shield against debris.
“The spacecraft made its first dive through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26,” NASA said in a statement. “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.”