NASA’s Cassini orbiter continues to send back some stunning shots of Saturn even as its days are rapidly coming to an end. The spacecraft’s latest delivery is one of its best yet, offering us a glimpse of Saturn’s rings from the inside, captured by Cassini’s wide-angle camera as it swooped between Saturn and the planet’s iconic disc of debris.
The choppy clip is actually a collection of 21 separate images that Cassini snapped as it slipped between the rings and the planet itself, which NASA then animated. If you’re wondering exactly what you’re looking at here, NASA explains:
“The entirety of the main rings can be seen here, but due to the low viewing angle, the rings appear extremely foreshortened,” the Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes in a post. “The perspective shifts from the sunlit side of the rings to the unlit side, where sunlight filters through. On the sunlit side, the grayish C ring looks larger in the foreground because it is closer; beyond it is the bright B ring and slightly less-bright A ring, with the Cassini Division between them. The F ring is also fairly easy to make out.”
If you feel like taking the time to match the rings up to what you’re seeing in the animated image, you can use NASA’s handy Saturn ring guide.
The Cassini spacecraft is almost to the end of its mission. That unfortunately means that Cassini is also almost to the end of its existence, as the orbiter’s final act will lead it on a collision course with Saturn that it will not survive.
After completing its final dive, Cassini will make its final approach to Saturn, angled so that it faces the full force of the planet’s atmosphere. The friction that Cassini encounters will be immense, and it will essentially incinerate the entire craft, vaporizing it. But even as it is ensuring its own destruction, Cassini will continue to beam back information from its scientific instruments until the very last moment of its life.