NASA breathes easy after regaining contact with Cassini as it successfully dove on the way to what mission planners are calling its "Grand Finale." Along with its successful dive came a set of historic photos of Saturn for many to marvel at.

Unpredictable First Dive

Though Cassini is at its final leg of its journey before slowly plunging to its demise in September, it is still relentless in gifting the world with images that prove valuable for space research, as it beamed back precious data upon regaining contact with NASA at 2:56 a.m. EDT last April 27 (11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26).

At the first leg of 22 orbits before it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere, Cassini came dangerously close to the planet, as it came within about 1,900 miles from the cloud tops and 200 miles from the innermost visible edge of Saturn's rings.

Though the mission managers were confident that the first plunge would be successful, the team still took extra care, as the region where the plunge took place has never been explored before. Moreover, no other spacecraft has ever gone this close to Saturn, giving it the best opportunities to take the never-before-seen photos.

Closer Than Ever

Given the opportunity of being closer to the planet than any other spacecraft, Cassini was able to send back photos of Saturn's atmosphere showing closer details.

Cassini's next plunge is scheduled for May 2, and its "Grand Finale" is expected to end Cassini's mission on Sept. 15. Still, Cassini has 21 more dives to perform, and it's very likely that each one will send back more images that will bring not just a gold mine of data for space research but also a wonder to many.

"In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," said Jim Green of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.


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