An image of Saturn’s north polar vortex captured by Cassini on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
Cassini made it! On April 26, 2017, NASA’s Saturn-exploring spacecraft made its closest pass by the planet since its arrival in 2004, beginning the final phase of its mission with its first “Grand Finale” orbital pass that took it between the top of the planet’s atmosphere and the innermost edge of the ring system. It’s literally a journey that no other spacecraft has ever made—and now the pictures are coming in!
It’s also the closest Cassini has come to Saturn itself; at closest point Cassini was only about 1,900 miles (3,000 km) above the tops of Saturn’s swirling clouds. It’s amazing to think that the images we’re seeing were captured with Cassini’s wide angle camera—typically views like this have had to use its “zoom” narrow-angle camera!
Check out an animation below of some of Cassini’s views captured during the pass over Saturn’s north pole.
Views from Cassini captured on April 26, 2017 during its closest pass past Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Animation by Jason Major.)
The white puffy areas in the images are high-altitude clouds, most likely made of water or ammonia ices. Deeper cloud bands can ...