Cassini spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in close-up video
Spacecraft made flyby on April 26 as part of Grand Finale mission
NASA has released a new movie of its Cassini spacecraft as it flew between Saturn and its rings late last month.
The spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the giant ringed planet since 2004, is on its finale mission, dubbed the Grand Finale. It will plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15.
The video is made up of observations carried out by Cassini over one hour as the spacecraft travelled from the north pole to the south. Most impressively, it begins over the massive swirling vortex — the centre of a puzzling hexagon — at the planet's north pole and continues southward.
"I was surprised to see so many sharp edges along the hexagon's outer boundary and the eye-wall of the polar vortex," Kunio Sayanagi, an associate of the Cassini imaging team, who helped produce the new movie, said in a statement.
"Something must be keeping different latitudes from mixing to maintain those edges," he said.
As the spacecraft turned its cameras toward the eddies of Saturn's clouds, it descended from an altitude of 72,400 kilometres to 6,700 kilometres, imaging features from 8.7 kilometres per pixel all the way down to 810 metres per pixel.
And the images are only going to get better as the spacecraft continues its series of dives.
"The images from the first pass were great, but we were conservative with the camera settings. We plan to make updates to our observations for a similar opportunity on June 28 that we think will result in even better views," said Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team.