NASA's Cassini spacecraft has successfully traveled between Saturn and its rings

NASA's Cassini spacecraft begins 'Grand Finale' of Saturn mission

NASA's Cassini spacecraft begins 'Grand Finale' of Saturn mission

On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully made its first dive through the narrow gap between the giant planet Saturn and its rings.

NASA plans to crash the spacecraft into Saturn to avoid any chance Cassini could someday collide with any ocean-bearing moons that have the potential to support indigenous microbial life. Cassini and its little buddy, the Huygens probe, has already gathered a laundry list of critical data from Saturn and its largest moon, Titan, which is "one of the most Earth-like worlds we've ever encountered", NASA reports.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft dove inside the rings for the first time at about 77,000 miles per hour relative to the planet, kicking off what the science team is calling the Grand Finale of the mission.

Venturing between the planet and its rings for the first time represents "a risky moment for the mission", Luciano Iess, Cassini team member at Italy's Sapienza University of Rome, said at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn's other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like, ' said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

No spacecraft has ever flown between a planet and its rings.

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There's a gap of roughly 2,400 kilometers (1,490 miles) between gas giant Saturn and his rings. NASA's models for the region suggest the particles in the area where Cassini passed through Wednesday were on the same scale as smoke, according to JPL.

Cassini is travelling through the gap at a relative speed of about some 77,000 miles per hour (124,000 kph) so even small particles striking the spacecraft can be deadly.

As a precautionary measure and in a bid to avoid the said particles, earth controls had oriented the satellite's dish-shaped antenna in the direction of the oncoming ring particle.

You can hardly tell it's there, but the arrow in this wide angle shot taken by Cassini marks our Earth - a tiny dot because the picture was taken from very, very far away.

The spacecraft is on a trajectory that will cause it to plunge into Saturn's atmosphere - ending Cassini's mission - on September 15, 2017, the statement said. Eastern time, humanity explored a region of the solar system never before explored: the space between Saturn and its rings.

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Cassini's next dive is scheduled to occur on May 2, and thereafter on a weekly basis.

Cassini was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004.

Cassini has also collected data from Saturn moon Enceladus. Although this will end the spacecraft, Saturn's moons will be protected. It is now embarking on what mission planners are calling its "grand finale".

NASA extended the almost $3.3 billion Cassini mission multiple times, and officials in 2010 announced plans for the spacecraft to jump inside Saturn's rings this year before heading into the atmosphere in September.

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