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The Most Beautiful Pictures Yet of Saturn’s Rings

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is currently in its “Ring-Grazing” orbits phase, observing Saturn’s dazzling rings of icy debris and sending back some of the closest-ever (and detailed) images of the outer parts of the main rings, including detailed views of small moons Daphnis and Pandora.

The following new images resolve details as small as 0.3 miles (550 meters), which is on the scale of Earth’s tallest buildings:

  • Fine details like straw and propellers — which are caused by clumping ring particles and small, embedded moonlets, respectively — had never been seen before in such detail.

The ring-grazing orbits began last November, and will continue until late April, when Cassini begins its grand finale. During the 22 finale orbits, Cassini will repeatedly plunge through the gap between the rings and Saturn. The first finale plunge is scheduled for April 26.

This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini's final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray (at left); Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft's Sept. 2017 final plunge into Saturn. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini’s final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray (at left); Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft’s Sept. 2017 final plunge into Saturn.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.

via NASA