NASA has confirmed that its Cassini spacecraft has dived through the gap between Saturn and its rings. The journey marks the first time an Earth-built object has navigated the space between the planet and its halo of dust and rocks, and comes as the probe (which has been circling Saturn for the last 13 years) enters its final orbit of the gas giant.
The dive itself took place yesterday morning at around 5AM ET, but NASA couldn’t confirm that Cassini made it through unscathed until 3AM ET today. Cassini will perform another 21 dives through the same gap, beaming back more information about the planet and its beautiful rings, before plunging into Saturn itself to burn up in its atmosphere.
We did it! Cassini is in contact with Earth and sending back data after a successful dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings. pic.twitter.com/cej1yO7T6a— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) April 27, 2017
That’s assuming everything goes to plan — Saturn’s rings are made up of small rocks and particles that could damage the craft — but so far the space agency says everything is normal. To get through the gap before, Cassini used its antenna to shield it against potential impacts, keeping its scientific apparatus clear.
The gap between Saturn and its rings is no longer unexplored space – and we're going back 21 times. #GrandFinale! https://t.co/TSA7uQe4KS pic.twitter.com/t9RlhEsWCP— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) April 27, 2017
Expect more information about the makeup of Saturn’s rings, as well as details from the planet itself, as NASA parses the data Cassini sends back. Be patient, though, as even the mission’s scientists need to wait to get the latest from the spacecraft — it takes 78 minutes for data to travel the billion-plus kilometers between Saturn and Earth.