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Space probe Cassini dives through the gap between Saturn and its rings

Cassini dives between Saturn and its innermost ringThe space probe Cassini has begun its final sequence of orbits of Saturn, passing between the planet and its rings, and ending with a final plunge into the planet itself on 15th September 2017. Cassini made its first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on 26th April 2017. As it did so, the tiny probe came within about 3000 kilometres (2000 miles) of Saturn's cloud tops and a mere 300 kilometres (200 miles) of the innermost visible edge of the rings. Skimming above the planet’s atmosphere, Cassini is now beaming back images of Saturn from an extremely close viewpoint.

All images NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Cassini flies above Saturn's northern hemisphere
Cassini's antennae dish is at the top

The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn's atmosphere is only about 2000 kilometres (1500 miles) wide. With spacecraft zipping through at about 124,000 km/h (77,000 mph), any tiny rock particles in this region of space could have inflicted huge damage to it. So as a protective measure, Cassini used its large, dish-shaped antenna (4 metres or 13 feet across) as a shield.

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