During its flight through uncharted territory, Cassini will collect new data about Saturn, including its internal arrangement based on the planet's gravity and magnetic fields, how much material is in its icy rings and the spacecraft will, of course, deliver "ultra-close" images of Saturn's rings and clouds.
Another raw image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft reveals streaks and other features in Saturn's atmosphere, caught during the spacecraft's plunge between the planet and its rings' inner edge.
Science and engineering data collected during the spacecraft's passage is being beamed back via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert, JPL reported. The antenna had been oriented away from Earth. Getting closer to the planet will allow Cassini to take its mass without factoring in the rings.
The NASA spacecraft successfully completed its first pass through the uncharted territory between Saturn and its rings late Wednesday.
"We are just ecstatic", project science engineer Jo Pitesky said by phone from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
NASA announced Thursday morning its Cassini spacecraft was successful in its historic first dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings. The 12,600-kilogramm spacecraft will start its controlled plunge toward Saturn 20 years after the mission began - and it will keep sending data to Earth until the very end.
The gap between Saturn's rings and the top of its atmosphere is only 1,500 miles wide, and Cassini was hurtling through at 77,000 miles-per-hour relative to the planet, according to NASA.
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An impact with even a tiny ice or rock particle could do a lot of damage, and so Cassini will point its big radio dish in the forward direction as it goes through the rings-clouds gap, to act as a shield.
Missing some content? Care to comment? They're using the close encounters with Saturn and its rings to take what they describe as "unprecedented measurements" of its atmospheric composition and interior structure.
On April 26 2017 she will enter into the final stage of her mission, diving between Saturn and it's rings, a manoeuvre that has never before been attempted.
That's when the probe will be sent deliberately to crash through Saturn's dense atmosphere. It may be nearing its end, but the Cassini spacecraft isn't done yet. NASA's Cassini will draw its last breath as it eventually breaks up and melts completely and becomes part of Saturn. These are the first to show Saturn's moons and rings, Earth, Venus and Mars all in one shot. The craft was able to capture a few close images of Saturn's surface during its first dive, but the team will be able to take more calculated risks in the upcoming dives and capture awesome observations of the planet's surface and inner rings the likes of which we have never seen before.
"If the rings are massive, this means that they are old".
Over her life, Cassini has dedicated herself to sharing with us the wonders that is Saturn through data and photography.