NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has just flown up close to Saturn for the second time, returning some stunning new images in the process.
The spacecraft is currently in its Grand Finale phase, where it is performing 22 dives between Saturn and its rings, the first time a spacecraft has explored this region.
This was the second of those 22 dives, taking the spacecraft to a similar region that it flew through for the first time on April 26.
It completed this second crossing on May 2, coming within 2,930 kilometers (1,820 miles) of Saturn’s cloud tops and 4,780 kilometers (2,970 miles) of its rings. Confirmation that the dive was successful was received back on Earth yesterday.
A rather incredible image of Saturn and its rings. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
On this pass, it used its magnetometer (MAG) instrument to study Saturn’s magnetic field up close, which it hasn’t done before. It also used its Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument to study the moon Rhea and work out its structure and composition.
Of course, Cassini was also busy snapping images with its cameras. This is the last time it’ll have such a good view of the rings, with the Sun hidden behind Saturn but still lighting them up. Being lit in this way has allowed Cassini to study the rings for imperfections known as ringlets.
Rhea, as seen by Cassini on the May 2 flyby. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The images also included some glorious shots of the wider planet and its rings, which will be stitched together to monitor structures in Saturn’s D ring.
There was also time to capture some shots of the fascinating moon Titan and another smaller moon called Epimetheus, alongside shots of Rhea.
The small moon Epimetheus. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Titan by Cassini. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
But wait, there’s more. NASA also released a movie of Cassini’s flight over Saturn on its first pass, with the spacecraft swooping over the planet. You can check that out below.
Cassini’s next dive will take place on May 9, with the spacecraft planning to perform gravity field measurements and take another look at Titan to monitor its clouds.