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.
This Cassini image features a density wave in Saturn’s A ring (at left) that lies around 134,500 km from Saturn. Density waves are accumulations of particles at certain distances from the planet. This feature is filled with clumpy perturbations, which researchers informally refer to as “straw.” The wave itself is created by the gravity of the moons Janus and Epimetheus, which share the same orbit around Saturn. Elsewhere, the scene is dominated by “wakes” from a recent pass of the ring moon Pan. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This image shows a region in Saturn’s outer B ring. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft viewed this area at a level of detail twice as high as it had ever been observed before. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This image shows a region in Saturn’s outer B ring. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft viewed this area at a level of detail twice as high as it had ever been observed before. And from this view, it is clear that there are still finer details to uncover. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This image from NASA’s Cassini mission shows a region in Saturn’s A ring. The level of detail is twice as high as this part of the rings has ever been seen before. The view contains many small, bright blemishes due to cosmic rays and charged particle radiation near the planet. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
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
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.