Space probe angles in for a ringside view of Saturn

By Steve Connor

The Cassini spacecraft has resumed orbits that allow for spectacular shots of Saturn's rings. Photo / Nasa
The Cassini spacecraft has resumed orbits that allow for spectacular shots of Saturn's rings. Photo / Nasa

The Cassini space probe has, for the first time in two years, been able to get a good view of Saturn's famous rings owing to a recent change in the spacecraft's angle of orbit. It took seven years for Cassini to travel the 3.2 billion kilometres to Saturn.

Since arriving in 2004, the probe has been surveying the gas giant from the advantage of its elaborate elliptical orbits.

Other photographs, taken from about 1.7 million kilometres away, show the moons Titan and Tethys and Saturn's elaborate ring system, which is created by the reflected light of particles of dust and debris caught up in orbit around the equator

Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and six months later it separated from a second probe, called Huygens, which landed on Titan after a breathtaking 12-hour descent. The first images from Titan showed a world that may have looked remarkably similar to the early Earth before life evolved.

Scientists believe Titan has many similar features to Earth, such as lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, snow, clouds, mountains and possibly volcanoes.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint enterprise between the United States space agency Nasa, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency. It is named after European astronomers Giovanni Domenico Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.

The spacecraft, launched in 1997, is in an extended mission expected to last until 2017.

- Independent

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