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NASA's Cassini Probe Captures Weird Hexagon Storm in Saturn

Dec 08, 2016 04:00 AM EST
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NASA's Cassini Probe Sends Back Images of Saturn
NASA’s Cassini probe has successfully captured stunning images of Saturn. The images, however, are quite a doozy. The photos published on NASA’s official site show multiple angles of a weird hexagon-shaped storm that is swirling around the north pole of the planet.
(Photo : NASA via Getty Images)

NASA's Cassini probe has successfully captured stunning images of Saturn. The images, however, are quite a doozy. The photos published on NASA's official site show multiple angles of a weird hexagon-shaped storm that is swirling around the north pole of the planet.

The images were captured on Friday, December 2, and Saturday, December 3. Cassini captured these while zooming toward the outer edge of the planet's rings. A video of the hexagon-shaped storms may also be viewed on Space.com.

Cassini's dive is one out of 20 which the spacecraft will perform for its "Ring-Grazing Orbits" phase. Each last about seven days long. The phase runs through April 2017. By the 22nd of April, Cassini will fly past the largest moon of Saturn, Titan. The gravitational pull of the moon will reshape the orbit of the probe and set its stage for the "Grand Finale."

Cassini's last act involves 22 dives between Saturn and the innermost ring, which lies 1,500 miles from the cloud tops of the planet. On September 15, 2017, Cassini will perform an intentional death dive into Saturn's atmosphere, which marks the end of the mission.

"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn," stated Carolyn Porco, the Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, adding, "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."

Launched in October 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission cost $3.2 billion. It arrived in Saturn by July 2004. The Cassini mothership had carried a lander, Huygens, which landed on the surface of Titan by January 2005. The orbiter continues to circle Saturn to study its rings and its numerous moons.

The Cassini mission is a collaboration between NASA, the Italian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.

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