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Fly through Saturn's rings with Cassini — while it still can

Even in its final dives around Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is still sending us remarkable new views of this gorgeous gas giant.

The GIF below is made of 21 images taken by Cassini’s wide-angle camera over roughly four minutes as the spacecraft flew through the gap between Saturn’s innermost ring and its spherical body. The images are fairly small — just 512 pixels by 512 pixels — so that the satellite could take more images during that brief period of time.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this series of 21 images from within the gap between Saturn and its rings. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The rings move “up” in this GIF as the spacecraft flies from the sunlit side to the dark side — and they appear scrunched because of the extreme viewing angle. If you look closely, you can pick out the gray-toned C ring (which looks unusually large because it’s in the foreground), the bright B ring beyond it and the slightly more muted A ring outside of that. Far in the distance lies the thin F ring.

Scroll sideways for a view of Saturn's icy rings, photographed in this detailed mosaic by the Cassini spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Cassini has been making these daring dives since April, as part of its grand finale — the final round of orbits before the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sends the spacecraft plunging into the body of Saturn.

This dramatic end, set for Sept. 15, is meant to keep the spacecraft from accidentally hitting and contaminating one of Saturn’s moons that could potentially hold life, such as icy Enceladus with its subsurface ocean.

Before that happens, though, Cassini will continue to send us images such as these — which reveal a familiar planet from a whole new perspective, and may even help scientists probe a few more of the planet’s deep secrets.

amina.khan@latimes.com

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