New images show Saturn’s rings in “unprecedented detail”

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has made it a habit of snapping gorgeous photos of Saturn’s rings, but it has absolutely outdone itself with the latest batch of images.

Currently in its “Ring-Grazing” orbits phase—something that begun last November—Cassini’s newest photos are twice the level of detail as had been observed before. They’re so dense and detailed scientists are able to see features known as “straw” and “propellers;” NASA says a “straw” is an accumulation of density waves, which are filled with clumpy perturbations.

Upon arriving at Saturn in 2004, Cassini was able to snap photos that were described as “scientifically stunning.” The problem, however, was Cassini snapped the images when the rings were backlit using shorter exposure times, resulting in pictures that were dark and noisy.

The latest images were taken in both the backlit and sunlit side of the rings, according to NASA, allowing Cassini to snap pictures in “unprecedented detail.”

“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,” said Cassini Imaging Team Lead Carolyn Porco. “How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected.”

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