NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been on Saturn mission since 2004 and how it has entered into its Grand Finale mission, following which it will die forever. In the last lap, NASA Cassini probe is making some daring moves within the rings of the gas giant.
While making its closest-ever orbits around Saturn, NASA Cassini spacecraft has taken some stunning and closest pictures of the rings around the planet.
Cassini captured a breath-taking image in green light with the Cassini spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera on January 9 showing the C ring of Saturn. NASA has released the thrilling picture. The ring in the picture doesn’t appear uniformly bright, while about a dozen regions within it are brighter than all.
Also, the image has revealed that some regions don’t even have any ring material at all. The brighter regions are called “plateaus”, while the empty ones are known as “gaps.”
According to scientists, what makes plateaus brighter is its higher particle density and reflecting of more light. However, scientists are still clueless on how the plateaus are created and maintained, say reports.
Scientists believe that some of the gaps are created by tiny moonlets, a few hundred meters across, that orbit the planet within the rings.
The latest Cassini picture has been taken from about 62 degrees above the ring plane and the view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings.
The Cassini spacecraft was approximately 194,000 miles (312,000 kilometers) from Saturn at the time of capturing this image at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 67 degrees. Image scale is 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) per pixel.
In 1997, NASA and partners launched the Cassini Saturn mission from Earth. The spacecraft reached Saturn’s orbit seven years after the launch. Cassini’s primary mission phase was from 2004 to 2008 and it received two extensions.
While the Equinox Mission ended in 2010, the Solstice Mission is coming to an end in 2017 and Cassini has already entered the Grand Finale phase.
During the final lap, Cassini will make a number of orbits before exploding and falling into Saturn’s atmosphere. NASA is killing Cassini in this manner in order to avoid possible contamination of Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus because they are of biological interest to us.
The Cassini spacecraft is a cooperative mission of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency.