NASA’s Cassini spacecraft came within about 1,900 miles of Saturn’s cloud tops, a location where the air pressure is 1 bar, comparable to the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level, and within about 200-miles of the innermost visible edge of the rings. “No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like. I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Continue reading for another video, more pictures and information.
“The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is about 1,500 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide. The best models for the region suggested that if there were ring particles in the area where Cassini crossed the ring plane, they would be tiny, on the scale of smoke particles. The spacecraft zipped through this region at speeds of about 77,000 mph (124,000 kph) relative to the planet, so small particles hitting a sensitive area could potentially have disabled the spacecraft,” according to NASA’s press release.
These unprocessed images show features in Saturn’s atmosphere from closer than ever before. The view was captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive past the planet on April 26, 2017.