NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has now successfully completed its 12th ring crossing at Saturn, and is now well past the halfway point of the Grand Finale phase of its mission. Each ring crossing, with now only 10 left, brings Cassini closer to its inevitable end in September, when the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn’s turbulent atmosphere to meet its fiery fate.
Often referred to as the successor for Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of the most highly anticipated space telescopes ever built. A large infrared telescope with a 6.5-metre primary mirror, JWST will be able to look at every phase of the Universe, from the period just after the Big Bang to the formation of stars, galaxies, exoplanets and even our own Solar System. Scheduled for launch in fall 2018, JWST recently arrived at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where it will undergo its last, and crucial, cryogenic test.
NASA’s Cassini probe has now survived its third dive into Saturn’s rings, specifically the gap between the innermost rings and the planet itself. This is just the latest in a series of 22 such planned dives for the Grand Finale phase, before the mission ends on Sept. 15, 2017. This time, as well as obtaining more close-up views of the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere again, Cassini took a look at Saturn’s largest moon Titan from a distance, and saw some of the longest and brightest clouds in the hazy atmosphere that it has seen in the entire mission. Even though Cassini won’t be making any more close flybys of Titan, these new views are fantastic.
There has been a lot of attention given to the Cassini mission at Saturn lately, but meanwhile, NASA’s Juno probe also continues to be busy studying the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Juno is now revealing more of the giant planet’s secrets, and the first science results have now been published, which were presented last week at the European Geosciences Union meeting. As is common in planetary science, the new findings include significant surprises.
Cassini’s “dance” with Saturn’s rings continues – the probe has now completed its second dive into the rings (orbit 272), specifically the gap between the innermost rings and Saturn itself. That leaves 20 more similar dives to go, as part of the Grand Finale phase of Cassini’s mission before the fateful end on Sept. 15. This is the closest that any spacecraft has ever come to Saturn, showing the rings and the planet itself in detail never seen before.