Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st

Cassini will perform 22 orbits of Saturn during the Grand Finale.
Credits NASA-JPL

Cassini will perform 22 orbits of Saturn during the Grand Finale. Credits NASA-JPL

The first pass threading this needle close to Saturn began at 5 a.m. today, and although Cassini is not now in contact with the Earth - 870 million miles distant - it will continue collecting data on its way toward its ultimate destruction in the atmosphere of the gas giant's planet.

"With this flyby [of Titan], we're committed to the Grand Finale", said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, in the same statement. This will bring Cassini closer to Saturn than ever before to discover the origin of its rings and moons, and to see if there is life on the planet.

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.

This comes after Cassini has been traveling in space for almost two decades and orbiting around Saturn for 13 years, the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted. On Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, Cassini got a gravitational assist from Saturn's big moon Titan. Cassini dropped the probe Huygens on the moon Titan in 2005, which was considered a success.

Cassini is now out of contact with its handlers at NASA.

Cassini has also found evidence of an underground ocean on Saturn's sixth largest moon - Enceladus.

Cassini's last day will be a sad one for space fans.

Some key numbers for Cassini’s Grand Finale and final plunge into Saturn. Credits NASA  JPL-Caltech
Some key numbers for Cassini’s Grand Finale and final plunge into Saturn. Credits NASA JPL-Caltech

In the inner rings of Saturn, Cassini will be able to take fresh measurements facilitating a better understanding of the total mass of Saturn's rings.

A new photo released by NASA shows planet earth as a tiny bright dot between Saturn icy rings.

"Ultra-close" images of Saturn's rings and clouds will be available Thursday morning, according to NASA.

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.

The move is the first in what NASA is calling Cassini's Grand Finale, as it weaves its way between Saturn and its rings in a series of 22 dives that will culminate in what the agency describes as "a science-rich plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15". They expect to be looking through that information and imagery for years to come - continuing the Cassini craft's decade-long work of providing unprecedented amounts of knowledge about our near neighbour.

The spacecraft is expected to make a death dive into Saturn's thick atmosphere, burning up in the process on September 15.

French candidates boost security ahead of tense vote
He said Obama expressed his deep attachment to France and the importance of the relationship between the two countries. With Melenchon also not in the second round, both anti-EU contenders would be out - likely a relief for investors.

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