Cassini’s new view of Saturn
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is currently in the middle of a relatively new orbit of the planet Saturn, which it has been studying since 2004. Cassini is passing high over the northern hemisphere of the planet, and then taking sweeping runs alongside its rings – the closest any craft has ever been to the rings.
On November 30th, 2016, Cassini began its new course.
As shown below, Cassini will be orbiting extremely close to Saturns rings – in fact the craft will only be about 1,012 miles above the planets gassy atmosphere. The orbits begin at the farthest point from the planet, and each revolution will involve passing just inside of Saturn’s F ring.
From Cassini’s start point, it takes about 5 days to reach the rings. After it’s November 30th start, it reached the rings on December 4th, 2016.
Throughout December we have received several fantastic images of both Saturn’s unique northern region and its rings.
This unique hexagon-shaped jet stream is located directly at Saturn’s north pole. The hurricane is about 50 times larger than a hurricane found on Earth. In addition to the central hurricane, there are a number of smaller vortexes that spin with and also against the rotation of the hexagon jet stream.
“The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable. A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades — and who knows — maybe centuries.” – Andrew Ingersoll, Cassini Imaging Team
As for the rings, there are also numerous questions that NASA and the scientific community is seeking answers to. For one, how long have the rings been around Saturn? How did they form? Cassini will be able to measure the planet and its rings’ masses through its orbits, which will offer some clues.
In total, 20 orbits will take place and will end in late April. As Cassini will be ending its mission at Saturn, it will descend in September 2017 into the planet’s atmosphere, where it will be destroyed.
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