Images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft provided some of the most detailed close-ups ever of one of space's most dazzling sights -- Saturn's rings. The images showed features of the rings of icy debris in detail that scientists say had never been achieved before their 2017 release.
"These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn's rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet," said Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California.
Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and sent back images that were good (see below), but not great. The newer images show details like the straw formations and propeller shapes below that scientists could not see in the initial observations. Cassini's ring-grazing orbits, which provided the new images, began in November 2016 and continued through April 2017 before reaching its grand finale.
"As the person who planned those initial orbit-insertion ring images -- which remained our most detailed views of the rings for the past 13 years -- I am taken aback by how vastly improved are the details in this new collection," said Cassini Imaging Team Lead Carolyn Porco, of Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn's rings we've ever collected."