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Cassini Sends Back Data From Saturn

First Posted: Dec 08, 2016 05:00 AM EST
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Cassini recently beamed back its first close-up images of Saturn from the planet's northern hemisphere. It is set in a spectacular detail, providing several views of the large, hexagonal storm brewing in the north pole.

The photos, which were captured on Friday and Saturday, came from the spacecraft plunging past the iconic rings -- the first in 20 scheduled dives throughout April 2017. According to NASA, Carolyn Proco, Cassini's imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement that this is the beginning of the exploration of Saturn. The historic images, and all those that will follow, will serve as a reminder of the bold and daring adventure that the human race has embarked on the giant planet.

During the passes in ring grazing, the Cassini spacecraft is expected to come within 1,012 miles of the clouds and will shoot through the gaps between the rings and the planet, allowing scientists to calculate the mass of the structures separately.

Space.com noted that the Cassini-Huygens mission, which was launched in October 1997, is a $3.2 billion missions that arrived in the Saturn system by July 2004. The Cassini's mothership, Huygens, then touched down on Titan's surface in January 2005 as the orbiter continued to circle Saturn to study the planet itself, its rings and its moons.

Today, with less than a year left before the end of its mission, Cassini presented new maneuvers that could offer fresh insights for the scientific community regarding its evolution, the planets and even the iconic rings.

Still, among the strangest things about Saturn was the hexagonal storm that has been around for decades. The Los Angeles Times noted that NASA's Voyager Mission saw it first in the 1980s. Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist, shared, "It's still an interesting puzzle. How could this jet stream keep this six-sided shape and rotate as a unit for such a long time?"

See Now: NASA's Juno Spacecraft's Rendezvous With Jupiter's Mammoth Cyclone

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