Talk about ringside seats!
We’ve known about Saturn’s rings since 1610, when Galileo turned his telescope skyward and took a close look at the sixth planet from the sun. But never before have we had a view of the rings like this: a dazzling new movie made from photos snapped by the Cassini space probe show the rings from the inside out — that is, looking outward from the narrow gap between the rings and the planet itself.
The 21 photos were taken over a span of four minutes on Aug. 20 as Cassini dove through the gap. At the time, the school bus-sized craft was about 1,100 miles above the cloud tops that mark Saturn’s uppermost layer (the gas giant planet has no surface) and about the same distance from the innermost ring.
“When you consider that Saturn is some 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) across, and the ring system is over 170,000 miles (275,000 kilometers) across, we are really threading a needle here,” Dr. Matthew Tiscareno, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and one of the scientists involved in the Cassini misson, told NBC News MACH in an email.
And though the images captured by Cassini were stills, the spacecraft was anything but still. As its wide-angle camera snapped away, Cassini was speeding along at about 30 kilometers (20 miles) a second, Tiscareno said.