PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 29 (UPI) — Cassini is now ring-grazing, but its orbital path earlier this year sent the NASA probe high above Saturn’s north pole. In late September, the vantage revealed the pole fully illuminated by the sun’s rays.
The probe used the opportunity to photograph the sun-soaked north pole with its wide-angle camera. Recently, NASA shared the image online.
The summer sun shining on Saturn’s north pole has offered scientists at NASA the chance to study the gas giant’s weather patterns in greater detail. In the newly shared image, Saturn’s hexagonal jet stream is easily discernible. Darker regions on Saturn’s surface reveal low-hanging clouds.
Cassini’s latest mission phase — its ring-grazing phase — will continue to offer glimpses of the north pole, but the mission’s primary aim, as the name implies, is ring sampling.
In early December, the probe reoriented its orbital path around Saturn’s poles and began dipping within a few thousand miles of the gas giant’s outer rings.
The new ring-grazing phase of Cassini’s mission will last until April 22 and will include a total of 20 ring-grazing orbits. In the coming months, Cassini will collect and analyze cosmic samples as well as take photos.
The orbital pattern will offer intimate views of Saturn’s outer rings, as well as unprecedented vantages of small, inner moons — including Pandora, Atlas, Pan and Daphnis. Future orbits will allow Cassini to capture the most detailed images yet of the A, B and F rings.