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Cassini spacecraft made its first ring-grazing orbit around Saturn

NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft is in the last year of the mission launched in 1997. On Sunday it has made its first close dive past the outer edges of Saturn's rings
Cassini spacecraft made its first ring-grazing orbit around Saturn

Cassini crossed through the plane of Saturn’s rings on Dec. 4 at 8:09 a.m. EST at a distance of approximately 57,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops, as NASA reports.

Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons.

The spacecraft will make 19 more dives past the rings wile orbiting around Saturn. Each of Cassini’s orbits will last one week. The next pass by the rings’ outer edges is planned for Dec. 11.

The ring-grazing orbits will continue until April 22, when the last close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan will reshape Cassini’s flight path.

On April 26, Cassini will leap over the rings, making the first of 22 plunges through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) gap between Saturn and its innermost ring.

On Sept. 15, the mission will conclude with a final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. During the plunge, Cassini will transmit data on the atmosphere’s composition and then it will burn like a meteor.