Cassini signal from Saturn received following dive
© NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini signal from Saturn received following dive

The Cassini spacecraft is sending data back to Earth after diving in between Saturn’s rings and cloud tops.

The probe executed the manoeuvre yesterday (26 April) – the first of 22 plunges planned over the next five months – while out of radio contact.

NASA’s 70m-wide Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna at Goldstone, California, managed to re-establish communications just after 09:00 CET today (27 April).

The dives are designed to gather high-quality data.

At their best resolution, pictures of the rings should be able to pick out features as small as 150m across.

The Cassini imaging team has already started to post some initial, unprocessed shots on its website.

“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before,” explained Dr Earl Maize, NASA’s Cassini programme manager.

“We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like. I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape.”

Another 21 similar dives will now be made before the probe dumps itself in the atmosphere of Saturn. With so little fuel left in its tanks, Cassini cannot continue its mission for much longer.

Cassini signal from Saturn received following dive

Raw images: The first gap-run pictures of the atmosphere. They will need full processing © NASAJPL-CaltechSSI