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NASA captures Saturn's rings in mind-blowing detail

NASA's Cassini mission sticks its face into Saturn's rings and sends back some luscious close-ups that are out-of-this-world.

Cassini peers into Saturn's A ring.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

We've never seen Saturn's rings quite like this before.

NASA's Cassini mission is heading toward its grand finale phase. The spacecraft will ultimately end up dying in Saturn's atmosphere later this year, but not before it sends back some of the most stunning images of its career, including a set of close-ups of the planet's rings.

NASA released a series of four images on Monday showing the incredible amount of detail Cassini can see during its current ring-grazing orbits.

"How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn's rings we've ever collected," says Cassini imaging team lead Carolyn Porco.

The pictures highlight some fascinating features of the rings. "Straw" is the informal name given to clumped-up ring particles, while "propellers" are created by embedded moonlets. The latter get their name from their propeller-like shapes. Saturn has an impressive collection of over 60 moons, some of which are known to carve and shape the planet's rings.

Cassini launched in 1997 as a joint project from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. It reached Saturn in 2004 and has been collecting data and images from the planet and its many moons ever since. The 2017 mission finale will mark the end of a scientifically rewarding voyage.

Cassini gets a good look at Saturn's outer B ring. The area near the left edge is an example of the clumping structures scientists call "straw."

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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