Cassini Spacecraft Re-Establishes Contact After 'Dive' Between Saturn And Its Rings

The veteran Cassini spacecraft has pulled off an impressive high speed manoeuvre: passing between the narrow gap between Saturn's upper atmosphere and the planet's rings, traveling at speeds of around 77,000mph. The craft was able to capture a few close images of Saturn's surface during its first dive, but the team will be able to take more calculated risks in the upcoming dives and capture wonderful observations of the planet's surface and inner rings the likes of which we have never seen before.

NASA officials are not certain Cassini will survive all its ring dives.

Cassini skimmed 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) above Saturn's cloud tops, closer than ever before, and came within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of the innermost visible ring.

Researchers were confident Cassini would make it through the rings without issue, but still took extra care with the dive since it was the first time the area was ever explored. Dr Earl Maize, who is Cassini's program manager, has said that the mission will be ending soon, as scientists do not wish to risk having the spacecraft accidentally crashing into Saturn's moons and harming any possible life that could be lingering there. The eye of the storm was measured at more than 1,000 miles wide. Because Cassini scientists and engineers didn't know what to expect of the gap - although it looked clear, unknown dust and debris could have proved harmful - the spacecraft was turned so its 13-foot-wide (4 meter) antenna acted as a shield as it dove, collecting data all the while.

We look forward to more hauntingly attractive photos from Saturn's atmosphere over the coming weeks; we'll take whatever we can get until Cassini becomes a ghost itself.

The spacecraft was programmed to collect science data while close to the gas giant and turn toward Earth to make contact about 20 hours after the crossing.

The mission was out of radio contact with Earth as it plunged into Saturn's rings on Wednesday.

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Cassini made the first of its 22 dives into Saturn's rings, an event that Google celebrated by releasing a Doodle.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

"We have a saying in space flight", said Erick Sturm, lead mission planner for Cassini.

"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, NASA's director of planetary science, said in the agency's post-crossing statement.

The robotic spacecraft was launched in 1997 and was originally created to spend four years orbiting Saturn.

Zurbachen referred to recent analyses of Saturn's moon Enceladus by the Cassini space probe, which has discovered that the moon is capable of hosting alien life since there are hydrothermal reactions taking place below its icy surface.

The next dive is scheduled for May 2.

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