Saturn is a pretty amazing place. It’s a gas giant, the second biggest planet in our Solar System, home to 53 known moons, and has some rather fascinating rings.
So with good reason we’ve been exploring it for the last 13 years, using the Cassini spacecraft to return stunning images and data on the planet and its moons. Last week, Cassini flew closer to Saturn than ever before, between the planet and its rings, an unexplored region.
After that pass, NASA dumped a whole load of images on the Cassini raw image website. There are plenty to look through – more than 1,000 from this pass, and more than 230,000 from the mission in total.
So, aren’t you lucky then that we’ve taken the time to go through them for you. We’ve put together some gifs of the best sequences of images from the latest flyby. Let’s take a look.
Here we can see a huge storm raging at Saturn’s north pole, with Cassini’s camera positioning itself to look at different regions of the pole.
We’ve seen this storm before, but these latest images give us a whole new insight. You’ll actually notice that another large storm pops up in the top right, too. And those bits of white on the planet are storms in their own right.
Here we can see the planet and its rings in all their glory, with the sunlight brushing the bottom of the planet. That gap there between the rings and the planet is the size of the one Cassini went through, although it ventured through a different part.
This incredible sequence of images shows plumes spouting from the south pole of Enceladus. These contain material from the vast ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon.
Cassini has flown through these plumes before, and a recent study revealed that the ocean they come from may be suitable for life.
Here’s another shot of the plumes of Enceladus, slightly darker this time. You can also spot a few white dots moving around the image, which may be bits of debris or artifacts in the camera.
This is looking towards the gap between the outer edge of the rings and the F ring.
Within the F ring, you can see that material is sort of swirling, which is the result of other moons acting on the ring or little moonlets inside the rings themselves.
This gif shows storms in the upper atmosphere of Saturn.
Here’s a closer view of that storm at the north pole.
And one more view of Saturn's storms, because we're so nice.
Cassini will be flying this close to Saturn again today, with data and new images expected tomorrow.
All images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute