Cassini Spacecraft Re-Establishes Contact After 'Dive' Between Saturn And Its Rings

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Shortly before impact, Cassini will send a final burst of information which will be received on Earth just over an hour later. That's because its big dish antenna was maneuvered face forward to protect science instruments from potentially damaging particles in the rings. This orientation put the spacecraft was out of contact with Earth. The next dive is planned for May 2.

Cassini's first successful dive is part of what NASA is calling the "Grand Finale". Then, in what will be Cassini's great finale, the spacecraft will descend even deeper into Saturn's atmosphere and eventually burn up.

The historic event was also featured in a Google Doodle Wednesday. What's more, measurements regarding Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields can also be undertaken. There will be no contact with Cassini before that. No spacecraft has ever been to this region, so close to the gas giant before.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft sailed into uncharted territory Wednesday between the planet Saturn and the rings that encircle it, and emerged Thursday unscathed. "This is truly discovery in action to the very end".

The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn's atmosphere is about 2000 kilometres.

"No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before", said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of JPL in a press release. From there it will plunge through the skies on September 15, marking the official termination of the mission.

Images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the closest-ever views of Saturn's swirled atmosphere and its massive hurricane.

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The debris move at a speed of about 67,800 miles (109,000 kilometers) per hour. The antenna had been oriented away from Earth.

Kurth says. It's a bittersweet finish for the one-point-four-billion-dollar spacecraft, he says, as the repeatedly-extended experiment is - at last - reaching its conclusion with this new trajectory.

Here you can see a cyclone spinning in Saturn's atmosphere. These are the first to show Saturn's moons and rings, Earth, Venus and Mars all in one shot.

Cassini took more images than this, though.

While mission managers were confident Cassini would pass through the gap successfully, they took extra precautions with this first dive, as the region had never been explored.

Earlier this month, NASA said Cassini had captured evidence of the ingredients needed to support life on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The final picture was made using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to infrared light. It may be nearing its end, but the Cassini spacecraft isn't done yet.

Preston Dyches, a spokesperson for NASA JPL, said Cassini might have been able larger, more detailed images, but the team opted for lower quality on objective.