This week the folks at NASA treated us with some of the finest eye candy there is. Some of the closest pictures of Saturn’s rings were beamed back by the Cassini probe on December 18, 2016 with incredible detail. Some of the features pictured are as small as 0.3 miles (550 meters) across, a stunning thing when you realize the images were taken 1.2 billion miles away.
“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, in a statement. “How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected.”
Though it might seem like it, Saturn’s rings are not actually solid disks. Instead, these are comprised of countless ice particles and thanks to the gravitational effect of the planet’s moons, these icy chunks congregate in rings.
Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for nearly 12 years. We owe much to this spacecraft and the dedicated staff that operate the mission along the years. Sadly, Cassini’s voyage is soon to come to an end in April 2017 when the craft is scheduled to plunge through the gap between the rings and Saturn itself.