NASA delivered some fantastic news very early this morning, announcing that the Cassini spacecraft had successfully survived the first of its “Grand Finale” dives. The craft was out of radio contact for many hours as it ventured closer to the surface of Saturn than any earthly equipment had ever gone, and it shot some really stunning photos that show the planet in greater detail than we’ve ever seen.
Cassini’s first dive sent it straight through Saturn’s rings, shooting for a gap that measures roughly 1,500 miles wide which is light on debris. The craft cruised through its targeted space at speeds around 77,000 miles per hour, relative to the surface of the planet, and NASA notes that even the smallest particles could have spelled utter doom for the hardware if it was hit in the wrong spot.
“In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare,” Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.
The images Cassini delivered are the best photos humanity has ever had of Saturn’s atmosphere, showing in detail the unique cloud formations that simply hadn’t been seen previously. The photos were shot at a distance of about 1,900 miles from the planet, which might sound big, but is actually quite close when compared to most of Cassini’s other photos.
Cassini’s next dive will take place on May 2nd, and it will be the second of 22 total dives. So buckle up, because there’s lots more awesome eye candy in store.