NASA has released a movie sequence of images captured during Cassini’s first death-defying dive in between Saturn and its rings.
The footage comprises an hour of observations as the spacecraft came closer to the surface of the gas giant than ever before.
Cassini began its swoop at the planet’s north pole, capturing an unprecedented view of its polar vortex, before speeding past its hexagon-shaped jet stream at more than 70,000mph.
“I was surprised to see so many sharp edges along the hexagon’s outer boundary and the eye-wall of the polar vortex,” said Kunio Sayanagi, a researcher who helped produce the new movie. “Something must be keeping different latitudes from mixing to maintain those edges.”
Cassini’s 12-year journey is due to come to an end in September after it completes the final of its 22 dives.
NASA scientists are set upon ditching the craft in Saturn’s atmosphere before it runs out of fuel, ensuring it won’t crash into one of the planet’s 53 moons.
It’s thought that Enceladus and Titan might harbour life, and a satellite from Earth poses a major contamination risk.
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