Cassini flies where no spacecraft has gone before—within 3,000km of Saturn

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2017-04-29

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

After the Cassini spacecraft plunged between Saturn and its innermost rings on Wednesday, mission scientists waited anxiously Wednesday night for a message from the robotic probe that it had survived. Finally, at 2:56am ET on Thursday, Cassini made contact via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert and sent back some preliminary data and images.

It had come through its initial close encounter with Saturn unscathed, flying to within 3,000km of the gas giant's cloud tops, where the air pressure is comparable to that on the surface of Earth. The probe also "grazed" the innermost, visible edge of Saturn's ring system by flying within about 300km. No spacecraft had flown so close to Saturn or these rings, so scientists weren't sure it would survive.

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