NASA has released a set of images, courtesy of the Cassini spacecraft, that show Saturn’s rings like you’ve never seen before.
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For amateur astronomers gazing into the sky, Saturn has to be one of the most beautifully mysterious objects in the solar system. Its iconic ringlets of ice and debris that encircle the giant planet are still not fully understood by scientists, but we now have a chance to look closer than ever before at those rings.
NASA worked closely with the European Space Agency on the project to study Saturn and its majestic rings in order to learn more about what they consist of and how they formed. In April, the Cassini craft will head into an orbit where it will have the opportunity to photograph the rings from within, which has never been done before.
NASA say that these images contain twice the amount of previous images taken and allows researchers to study objects that are of a similar size to huge buildings on Earth. The researchers are extremely interested in a previously unknown phenomenon of clumped ring particles and propellers. They are interested in the relationships and movement of these objects and how they cause waves.
“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 are the details in this new collection. How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected.” Carolyn Porco – Cassini Imaging Team Lead
The final stage of the mission will begin in April and we can expect some fantastic shots of the incredible rings after the mission is complete. For now, here are the best shots:
“These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn’s rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet,” Cassini scientist Matthew Tiscareno said in a statement.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Cassini imaging operations center is based at Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.