NASA’s investigation into Saturn, it’s rings and everything in between has thrown up a series of stunning images from its Cassini spacecraft.
Cassini is currently in the middle of one of NASA’s most interesting missions: diving through Saturn’s many rings on 20 occasions to measure their make-up.
When this ends in April, Cassini will then dive below the rings, taking 22 trips between them and the planet’s surface, providing scientists with the best-ever look at what the planet’s surface is really like.
Then it will crash into Saturn, providing one final tranche of scientific readings, hopefully building a portfolio of information to allow NASA researchers to fully understand the planet’s atmosphere.
With the first stage well underway, images of Saturn’s dazzling rings of icy debris are emerging, and January’s haul is particularly fascinating.
The current leg of Cassini’s mission sees it shooting in and out of the outer edges of the rings every week, with several images already delivered during earlier dives.
Some of the structures seen in recent Cassini images have not been visible at this level of detail since the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in mid-2004.
At that time, fine details like straw and propellers – which are caused by clumping ring particles and small, embedded moonlets, respectively – had never been seen before.
“As the person who planned those initial orbit-insertion ring images – which remained our most detailed views of the rings for the past 13 years – I am taken aback by how vastly improved the details are in this new collection,” said Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute.
“How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected.”