Earlier last week, we brought you the story of the Cassini probe and its’ final mission before it goes out in a blaze of glory. Its last tasks involved diving through Saturn’s rings multiple times over the course of twenty-two weeks, all the while transmitting data and pictures to scientists at NASA. Recently, the probe finished its’ first run, and published some stunning photos.
Apart from the photos and data, Cassini became the first man-made probe to traverse what scientists call “the big empty”, the area between Saturn and its’ rings. On top of that, the craft managed to do so without sustaining major damage, as scientists were worried that Cassini may collide with flying space debris, such as ice blocks or asteroid fragments, cutting the mission prematurely.
One of the major discoveries from the craft’s first run was the lack of dust particles or major debris in “the big empty”, with scientists using Cassini’s audio equipment to confirm the data from other on-board instruments, as team member William Kurth explains:
“It was a bit disorienting — we weren’t hearing what we expected to hear. I’ve listened to our data from the first dive several times and I can probably count on my hands the number of dust particle impacts I hear.”
Thanks to the data collected by Cassini, it has helped scientists move a step closer towards understanding more about Saturn’s rings, whilst also displaying high resolution images of the structure and potential dynamics at play around the planet. Along with any future data the probe will transmit, NASA is confident it can reach a conclusion as to the weight of the rings as well as estimate the approximate age of them.
Whilst you would be correct in stating that Cassini has so far found “nothing” in its’ first dive, it has still continued to feed scientists’ theories and furthered our understanding of the area. Future dives will be expected to yield more interesting information, hopefully more than quasi-silent audio tapes and dust particles!
As this is written, Cassini is completing its’ second scheduled dive, with the data from this last attempt to be available to NASA, and thereafter, the world, within the next 24 hours. The probe will continued to do this until September 15, 2017 when it will be directed towards Saturn’s surface and burn up upon entering its’ atmosphere – that is, if nothing happens to it before then.