These images might be the closest we’ve ever seen of Saturn’s famous rings, giving scientists an unprecedented chance to observe some of their astronomical features and dazzling good looks.
The newly released images come from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is currently in the “Ring-Grazing” end-phase of its mission to study everybody’s favorite gas giant (no offense, Jupiter).
Some of the features picked up in this image haven’t been seen since the craft first arrived at Saturn in 2004, including details as small as 550 meters (0.3 miles), which is about the size of Earth’s tallest skyscrapers.
"These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn’s rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet," Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist at the SETI Institute in California, said in a statement.
"As the person who planned those initial orbit-insertion ring images – which remained our most detailed views of the rings for the past 13 years – I am taken aback by how vastly improved are the details in this new collection," said Cassini Imaging Team Lead Carolyn Porco of Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn's rings we've ever collected."
Cassini’s 20-year mission will come to an end in September of this year. From April 26 onwards, the spacecraft will embark on a phase called “The Grand Finale”, where it will dip in and out of Saturn’s innermost ring through a series of orbits. After that, it will dive into Saturn in one last blaze of glory.
As these images prove, you have served us well, Cassini.