Cassini has begun grazing the rings of Saturn. This represents the next phase in the journey of NASA’s preeminent spacecraft. Around November 30, 2016, Cassini began orbits that swing close to the outer rings and give a great view of the north pole of the gas giant. The resulting images are spectacular and are a testament to the concerted effort of many engineers, astrophysicists, technicians, and experiment designers. NASA has a new gallery of photos to spark imagination and create additional questions about what is happening on this planet. One of the most interesting phenomena is the hexagonal shaped polar vortex on the north pole. What forces create this uncommon geometric shape when the more common shape would be a circle?
Cassini will continue to send back pictures as it systematically surveys the atmosphere, rings, and moons of Saturn over the next 9 months. On September 15, 2017, Cassini will dive toward the surface of Saturn where, long before it reaches the planet’s crust, it will be crushed and vaporized by the forces of Saturn’s atmosphere. A fitting pyrotechnical finale for a noble spacecraft.