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LOOK: Cassini Sends Photo of 'Giant Hurricane' on Saturn During First Dive Before Its 'Grand Finale'

Apr 29, 2017 01:53 PM EDT
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Cassini Captures Closest Images of Saturn's Atmosphere
This unprocessed image shows features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before. The view was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive past the planet on April 26, 2017.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has successfully finished its first dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. The spacecraft sent stunning up-close pictures of Saturn, including what looks like a dark giant hurricane.

According to a report from NASA, Cassini sent back the new data on April 27. During its dive, Cassini came within 3,000 kilometers of Saturn's cloud tops and within 300 kilometers of its rings' innermost visible edge. It flew at a speed of 77,000 mph.

Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said that this is the fist time they received first-hand information on what the gap between the rings and Saturn looks like because before, they only relied on predictions and other data from Saturn's other rings.

"I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape," Maize added.

With regard to the dark giant hurricane, NASA researchers confirmed that it was "the center of the vortex at its pole, stretching 2,000 km across, or almost 1,500 miles," Space.com noted. Besides the giant hurricane, Cassini also sent back more photos, and all of them are available on NASA's website for public view.

This is the first of the 22 dives that Cassini will perform before it plunges to its death, dubbed as the Grand Finale, on Sept. 15. Cassini's next dive in between Saturn and its rings is on May 2.

"In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.

READ: NASA to Kill Cassini to Protect Alien Ocean World on Saturn's Moon Enceladus From Contamination

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