Published: Sat, December 10, 2016
Science | By Hubert Green

Enjoy these stunning photos of Saturn before Cassini takes its death-dive

Enjoy these stunning photos of Saturn before Cassini takes its death-dive

Cassini took this two days before its first close pass of the main rings.

It would be another seven years before it arrived, settling into Saturnian orbit in the summer of 2004-when the raging presidential contest was between George W. Bush and John Kerry; when the iPhone didn't exist but the iPod did; when when a little-known English girl named Adele was 16 years old. This will be the first time this orbit will be attempted giving scientists an opportunity to closely study Saturn's rings and the "moonlets" hiding in the planet's rings making the mission all the more important for scientists.

The phase will end with Cassini being destroyed in the atmosphere of a planet it has been studying for 12 years. "This is a remarkable time in what's already been a thrilling journey", she added. As part of this repositioning to a new flight path, Cassini has captured new photos of Saturn's northern hemisphere and its distinctive, hexagon-shaped storm. These "Ring-Grazing Orbits" will number 20 in total, and will hopefully produce many more images of the planet and its rings that NASA has never had a chance to glimpse.

The probe conducted extensive scans of the rings to help researchers analyze their structure and origin. Each photo has a different filter, sensitive to different wavelengths of light.

After that, the probe will buzz past Titan to pick up one last burst of data from the moon.

Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, said: "Even though we're flying closer to the F ring than we ever have, we'll still be more than 4,850 miles distant".

Sadly, we'll have to wait a little longer before images of such a dive and position are attained, as this early dive was merely a precursor to what's to come - acting as an early monitor of how future maneuvers will go. We're going to measure the elevation of some of these small lakes because some of them are perched higher or lower. "So this is like the final party where you want to do it all".

"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn", Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. Sunday night's main-engine burn was "the 183rd and last now planned firing of our main engine", said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, in a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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