The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft in orbit around Saturn, July-December 2004, illustration (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
This image shows a region in Saturn's outer B ring. NASA's Cassini spacecraft viewed this area at a level of detail twice as high as it had ever been observed before NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
This Cassini image features a density wave in Saturn's A ring (at left) that lies around 83,500 miles from Saturn. Density waves are accumulations of particles at certain distances from the planet. This feature is filled with clumpy perturbations, which researchers informally refer to as 'straw.' The wave itself is created by the gravity of the moons Janus and Epimetheus, which share the same orbit around Saturn. Elsewhere, the scene is dominated by 'wakes' from a recent pass of the ring moon Pan (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
This image shows a region in Saturn's outer B ring. NASA's Cassini spacecraft viewed this area at a level of detail twice as high as it had ever been observed before. And from this view, it is clear that there are still finer details to uncover (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
This image from NASA's Cassini mission shows a region in Saturn's A ring. The level of detail is twice as high as this part of the rings has ever been seen before. The view contains many small, bright blemishes due to cosmic rays and charged particle radiation near the planet (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
When you learned about Saturn in elementary school, all you really knew was that it was the planet with the rings. Now, NASA has given those rings an extreme close-up, courtesy of its Cassini spacecraft.
Currently in its “ring gazing” orbits phase, the Cassini is sending back some of the closest-ever images of Saturn’s main rings. (It observed the rings earlier in its mission in 2004, but the vantage point wasn’t as good.) The images show details as small as 0.3 miles, which is basically on scale with Earth’s tallest buildings like Burj Khalifa or the Empire State Building, per NASA.
The Cassini’s imaging team leader Carolyn Porco, of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said of the latest round of images:
“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….How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected.”
For more on the Cassini’s mission and Saturn’s rings, click here. Take a closer look at three more images of the rings below.