NASA has just released a video that strings together an hour of images the spacecraft Cassini captured during its first plunge through the space between Saturn and its rings.
The footage of the dive, which took place last week, starts over the vortex on the planet’s north pole. The spacecraft then travels south from there, getting a close-up view of Saturn’s clouds as it plummets from 45,000 miles above the atmosphere to just 4,200 miles.
You can see the camera’s framing change near the end of the video. That’s because Cassini had to turn to shield itself with its antenna against the small rocks and particles that make up Saturn’s rings.
This plunge into what once was unexplored space kicked off Cassini’s Grand Finale — the end of its 13-year mission to explore the strange, ringed planet and its moons. After 22 orbits less than 2,000 miles above Saturn’s atmosphere (about one each week), Cassini will end its voyage in mid-September by crashing into Saturn.
Along the way, though, the spacecraft will continue to sample Saturn’s atmosphere, measure the planet, and take more beautiful photos. The team responsible Cassini’s photography plans to tweak the camera’s settings to take even better shots next time, which should be around June 28th.