Continuing to make discoveries in the final weeks of a historic mission at Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has recorded a unique time lapse movie looking out toward the planet’s iconic icy rings.
Cassini captured imagery to assemble the movie during an 20 August swing through the gap between Saturn and its rings. Ground controllers set Cassini’s wide-angle camera to take images in a low-resolution mode — 512 x 512 pixels — to allow the spacecraft to gather more photos in a short span of time, according to NASA.
“The entirety of the main rings can be seen here, but due to the low viewing angle, the rings appear extremely foreshortened,” NASA said in a statement. “The perspective shifts from the sunlit side of the rings to the unlit side, where sunlight filters through.”
The sequence shows Cassini crossing the relatively thin ring plane as it zipped by Saturn at a speed of some 122,000 kilometers per hour (76,000 mph) relative to the planet’s cloud tops.
“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,” NASA said. “The F ring is also fairly easy to make out.”
Running low on fuel, Cassini is set to end its nearly 20-year mission 15 September with a guided plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. The probe will disintegrate as it descends into the deeper layers of the atmosphere, succumbing to increasing aerodynamic pressures.
Composed mostly of blocks and particles of ice, Saturn’s rings are one of the major targets for Cassini’s scientific instruments during the mission’s final months. Scientists hope to learn the mass of the rings, a figure that should yield an estimate of their age and origin.
Saturn itself is also a focus during Cassini’s grand finale.
Measurements of Saturn’s gravity and magnetic fields could help scientists study…