NASA’s Cassini spacecraft just sent the first images from its new orbit around Saturn

After 20 years of traveling through space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is taking a close look at Saturn before plunging into the planet in September 2017. And it’s finally sending us some of its first pictures back.

The final stretch of Cassini’s mission will allow us to learn more about the particles and gas molecules that linger near Saturn’s rings. Cassini began its new mission phase on November 30th, which NASA calls Ring-Grazing Orbits. Twenty of these weeklong orbits will take Cassini high above Saturn’s northern hemisphere and then past the edges of the planet’s main rings. That’s where Saturn’s small moons orbit.

"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn,” Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “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."

Here are some of the photos Cassini sent us through space.

This image was taken with the Cassini wide-angle camera on December 3rd, 2016, about half a day before its first close pass by the outer edges of Saturn's main rings. It shows the planet’s North Pole, where there’s a storm and a giant, hexagon-shaped jet stream. Each side of the hexagon is about as wide as Earth, NASA says.

This collage of images, taken on December 2nd, 2016, shows the planet’s northern hemisphere and rings. Each photo has a different filter, sensitive to different wavelengths of light. They show clouds and hazes at different altitudes.

This photo, taken on December 4th, 2016, shows Tethys, Saturn's fifth largest moon and its heavily scarred surface. Its biggest impact crater, called Odysseus Crater, is 250 miles in diameter — that’s roughly two-fifths of the moon itself.

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hehe bewbs…

Sequel to Space Balls?

I love planetary exploration.

These are incredible!

Nothing like a pic of Saturn up close to really put you in your place. Space is fascinating.

Looking at how large and symmetrical that storm is..all I can think of is..Damn, you scary nature!

Desolate, lifeless, monotone and symmetric. Less processing required that way, it’s all background filler like in original Doom /s

Hexagon or nipple I can’t decide, so I will just call it a hexanipple.

why isnt it in color?

Nature forgot to anti-alias that hexagon

Stunning images!
You can see the rings on saturn in some of the images.

Seriously though, why are they putting it down. Why not let it stay at a stable geostationary orbit?

That hexagon is truly incredible. One of the weirdest things we’ve come across in the solar system.

Does anyone know if they are planning to enter the atmosphere close to it? Doesn’t it seem to be the biggest mystery on the planet?

Any official explanation as to how the hexagon formed? That’s amazing.

There’s a pretty good wiki article on it… quick pull form there, but check it out.

One hypothesis, developed at Oxford University, is that the hexagon forms where there is a steep latitudinal gradient in the speed of the atmospheric winds in Saturn’s atmosphere. Similar regular shapes were created in the laboratory when a circular tank of liquid was rotated at different speeds at its centre and periphery. The most common shape was six sided, but shapes from three to eight sided were also produced.

Even if it can be recreated, still blows my mind.

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