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Saturn: Cassini Probe Draws Close, Sends Images of North Pole

Image: Saturn: Cassini Probe Draws Close, Sends Images of North Pole

The Cassini probe took pictures of Saturn's hexagonal cloud patterns. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

By    |   Wednesday, 07 Dec 2016 03:39 PM

A new orbit by NASA’s Cassini probe has begun to yield images of Saturn’s North Pole as the craft draws closer to the icy, ringed planet.

Cassini grazed a faint ring caused by the moons Janus and Epimetheus and went within 57,000 miles of Saturn’s surface to send back photos of the hexagonal cloud formations over the planet’s north pole in early December, according to Space.com.

The Cassini mission is on its last leg, having launched in 1997, and first reached Saturn in 2004. The piggyback Huygens lander surfaced on moon Titan while Cassini orbited and studied the planet, its rings, and other moons, which total 62 in all.

In the final leg, Cassini will take about 19 close passes to Saturn, each a week apart, until April 2017, Space.com reported.

The data from these orbits should give scientists a better look at some of Saturn’s small moons hiding within its closest ring and may show how planets formed both in our solar system and in other worlds, National Geographic reported.

Finally, Cassini will orbit between Saturn and its innermost ring before intentionally falling toward into Saturn’s atmosphere to its destruction. Scientists want to ensure no microbes from Earth contaminate Titan or another Saturn moon Enceladus, which they speculate might be able to support life because of the presence of water and hydrocarbons there, Space.com reported.

“This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn,” Cassini imaging team lead Carolyn Porco said, CNET reported. “Let these images — and those to come — remind you that we’ve lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system’s most magnificent planet.”

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A new orbit by NASA's Cassini probe has begun to yield images of Saturn's North Pole as the craft draws closer to the icy, ringed planet.
cassini, probe, saturn, images
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2016-39-07
Wednesday, 07 Dec 2016 03:39 PM
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