The Cassini probe has accomplished an historic feat in space exploration today, after becoming the first man-made object to successfully fly between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself.
Cassini executed a perfect dive through the 1,500 miles-wide gap earlier today, causing great excitement inside Mission Control back on Earth.
The manouever was not without its risks, as controllers feared the probe may collide with unseen debris orbiting the planet. However, their daring gamble paid off, and Cassini flew through the gap unscathed. Today’s was the first of a further 22 planned gap-runs at speeds of nearly 80,000 mph.
Today’s flyover took Cassini to within 2,000 miles of Saturn’s upper cloudy surface. The next runs will take about 7 days to complete, and the craft is expected to gather invaluable scientific data during this period.
Cassini is nearing the end of its 20-year long mission to Saturn. After orbiting the planet for 13 years, controllers have set the probe on a ballistic course, which will end on September 15 at 9:45 a.m. GMT (6:45 a.m. ET), when it burns up in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Little was known about Saturn before Cassini began its mission. Back in 2004, the probe beamed data that proved key to charting the planet and its moons.