Ground controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed Thursday the Cassini spacecraft survived its first trip between Saturn and its rings, the closest any probe has ever come to the planet.
This view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft showcases some of the amazingly detailed structure of Saturn’s rings. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about four degrees above the ring plane.
Two tiny moons of Saturn, almost lost amid the planet’s enormous rings, are seen orbiting in this Cassini probe image. Pan, visible within the Encke Gap near lower-right, is in the process of overtaking the slower Atlas, visible at upper-left.
Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Saturn 35 years ago — on 25 August 1981. What the Voyagers revealed at the planet was so phenomenal that, just one year later, a joint American and European working group began discussing a mission that would carry on Voyager’s legacy at Saturn.
Pan and moons like it have profound effects on Saturn’s rings. The effects can range from clearing gaps, to creating new ringlets, to raising vertical waves that rise above and below the ring plane. All of these effects, produced by gravity, are seen in this image from the Cassini probe.