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The path that lies ahead for the Cassini-Huygens mission is indicated in this image which illustrates where the spacecraft will be just 27 days from now, when it arrives at Saturn and crosses the ring plane 33 minutes before performing its critical orbital insertion maneuver.
The X indicates the point where Cassini will pierce the ring plane on June 30, 2004, going from south to north of the ring plane, 33 minutes before the main engine fires to begin orbital insertion. The indicated point is between the narrow F-ring on the left and Saturn’s tenuous G-ring which is too faint to be seen in this exposure.
The image was taken on May 11, 2004 when the spacecraft was 26.3 million kilometers (16.3 million miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 158 kilometers (98 miles) per pixel. Moons visible in this image: Janus (181 kilometers or 113 miles across), one of the co-orbital moons; Pandora (84 kilometers or 52 miles across), one of the F ring shepherding moons; and Enceladus (499 kilometers or 310 miles across), a moon which may be heated from within and thus have a liquid sub-surface ocean.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras, were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute