• Closer than ever (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
The Cassini spacecraft has sent back photos of Saturn's northern hemisphere and there's a hurricane going on
Leah Crane

New Scientist
12 Dec 2016 - 2:07 PM  UPDATED 12 Dec 2016 - 2:07 PM

On 6 December, the Cassini spacecraft sent back the first photos since starting its closest orbits yet to Saturn’s rings.

This penultimate phase of Cassini’s mission, called the Ring-Grazing Orbits, started on 30 November and will send Cassini on 20 week-long trips soaring above Saturn’s northern hemisphere before gliding back down just outside the planet’s main rings.

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These new images were taken on 2 and 3 December, about two days before the first ring-grazing approach to the planet, as Cassini flew over the northern hemisphere’s strange hexagonal jet stream. The hexagon is caused by a powerful wind current and churns constantly, rotating once every 10 and a half hours around the colossal hurricane at its centre.

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Over the next few months, Cassini will send back the closest-ever images of Saturn’s rings and small moons, plus more photos of the planet itself. The final phase, called the Grand Finale, will begin on 22 April. At its end, in September 2017, Cassini will hurtle into Saturn’s haze and be destroyed by the very world it studied.
This article was originally published on New Scientist: Click here to view the original. © 201_ All Rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
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This article was originally published in New Scientist© All Rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.