A view of Saturn’s north pole captured by Cassini’s wide-angle camera on Dec. 3, 2016. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
After more than twelve years in orbit around Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is now in its final year of operation…and newly-positioned in an orbit that will send it soaring high over the planet’s north pole as well as close by the outer edge of its glorious shining rings.
Over the course of 20 week-long “ring-grazing orbits” — the first of which was completed on Dec. 4 — Cassini will obtain close-up images and data on the composition and structure of Saturn’s rings and nearby shepherd moons.
It’s the mission’s penultimate phase, heralding the end of Cassini in September 2017.
“This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn,” said Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco. “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.”
This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini’s final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray; Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft’s Sept. 2017 final plunge into ...