The view of a planet that’s 746 million miles away just got a little clearer, thanks to a historic first by NASA's Cassini probe. The spacecraft completed a dive between Saturn and its rings, capturing data and images of the planet never seen before. The first photos began pouring into the Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in the Mojave desert Thursday morning after a brief lapse in communication while the spacecraft’s 13-foot antennae was being used as a deflector shield, according to NPR. NASA says that Cassini, which has been in space for 20 years, made the historic dive within the 1,500-mile-wide gap between Saturn’s atmosphere and its icy rings. CNN reports that the mission may help scientists understand how giant planets evolve as well Saturn’s speed of rotation, gravity, and magnetic fields.
"In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," says Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. This initial dive will be the first of 22 through September as the probe enters its final phase, called the "Grand Finale.” The next dive through the gap is scheduled for Tuesday as the spacecraft continues to loop Saturn weekly. At the end of its 20-year mission, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15. (Cassini previously revealed that one of Saturn's moons has conditions that could support life.)