As Cassini wraps up its 13-year mission in Saturn’s system, scientists are preparing for the spacecraft’s final burst of observations in the never-before-explored region between the planet and its inner rings.
Cassini crossed Saturn’s ring plane for the first time today. Cassini recently obtained some of the closest-ever images of the outer edges of Saturn’s main rings.
Cassini’s final observations also promise to provide even better images of smaller moons – like ravioli-shaped Pan, ring-sculpting Daphnis and the flying-saucer-like Atlas – that orbit in the gaps between Saturn’s rings, Coustenis said.
Cassini’s next five months could reveal new clues about the somewhat mysterious interior structure of Saturn, too.
Measurements of Saturn’s gravitational field could help scientists determine how much hydrogen and helium are in the outer layers of Saturn, as well as the quantities of heavy elements concentrated in the core, Iess added.
J. Hunter Waite, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, recently led a team of researchers in analyzing observations made by Cassini during an October 2015 dive through a geyser plume shooting out of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.