The NASA’s Cassini spacecraft began with a new orbiting last month and this Wednesday it sent their first amazing images of Saturn rings.

Since the NASA’s spacecraft will commit “suicide” within the next year, the exploration program began a set of dangerous maneuvers to exploit the remaining time that this artifact has. The new set of pictures includes a storm that is currently present in the northern hemisphere of the planet Saturn.

Saturn's mysterious North Pole. Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Saturn’s mysterious North Pole. Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

NASA established that this approach is the first of many to come in the next months. The first maneuver consisted on the spacecraft flying at a low altitude near Saturn’s F ring, which is a high risk for the explorer. The plan is that the spacecraft graze the edge of this Saturn ring for about 20 more times before April. Alongside recollecting of images of the rings, Cassini will be closer to the moon Tethys, and it will be able to record photos of the mid-sized moon for the first time since its arrival.

Through most of the time the machine has been in space, it has kept a significant distance from the rings and stayed near Saturn’s 62 moons. NASA recognized the risk of sending Cassini to explore the rings closely. One of the researchers for this project explained the danger that represents the F ring for the explorer.

“This ring is ever-changing, with bright streamers and tenuous filaments sometimes flowing out from it. At other times, the moon Prometheus dips in and out of the F ring, creating channels in the ring material,” says Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Why does Cassini must destroy itself?

This robotic unmanned spacecraft is a project made by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, and it has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. Through all the last 12 years, Cassini has spun over Saturn a total of 251 times while flying between moons like Titan and Enceladus.

However, the lifetime of this critical mission will come to an end next year. The spacecraft will soon be out of fuel and will have to self-destroy in the upcoming months, and is precisely because of this upcoming “suicide” that NASA decided to take more chances regarding the recollection of data from Saturn’s rings.

The Cassini Explorer mission will come to its final on September 15, 2017, after the 22nd orbit is finished. The scientists in charge of Cassini are worried about contaminating the Enceladus moon. This particular moon is known because there is water presence on its subsurface and could be the home of undiscovered life. For this reason, NASA is avoiding any possible contact of Cassini with Enceladus and will force the spacecraft to do a final immersion into the planet’s clouds. The high pressure of Saturn’s atmosphere will provoke the crash of the explorer and will mark the end of a very successful 12-year mission.

Source: Time