Skimming above Saturn at an altitude of about 3,000 kilometres, the spacecraft will be closer than ever to the band of ice and space rocks that encircle Saturn.
Although only a sliver of Saturn's sunlit face is visible in this view taken by the spacecraft Cassini, the mighty gas giant planet still dominates the view.
"No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before", said Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
The raw images are being fed into a photo stream on NASA's website, and while they lack detailed captions and annotations, they provide entrancing views of the planet's complex atmosphere. The eye of the storm was measured at more than 1,000 miles wide.
The scientists running the Cassini mission had to hold their breath for a while yesterday while they waited to see if the craft had successfully navigated the gap - as an extra precaution they had oriented its dish-shaped antenna in the direction of the oncoming ring particles to act as a shield, meaning the spacecraft was out of contact with Earth during the ring-plane crossing. This meant repositioning Cassini's antenna away from Earth, which caused controllers to temporarily lose signal with the unmanned probe.
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"With all of this activity related to the search for life, in so many different areas, we are on the verge of one of the most profound discoveries, ever", Zurbachen said. "We won't know for a number of hours until Cassini gets in a position where it can radio back home, and so that's one of those things that keeps us on pins and needles". Eastern time, humanity explored a region of the solar system never before explored: the space between Saturn and its rings.
After 13 years of Cassini orbiting the planet, "Saturn continues to surprise us", Pitesky said.
Cassini will complete 21 more dives before its Grand Finale plunge and burn-up in Saturn's atmosphere September 15 - its next dive is May 2. The 12,600-kilogramm spacecraft will start its controlled plunge toward Saturn 20 years after the mission began - and it will keep sending data to Earth until the very end.
But that, of course, means it can not also then talk to Earth at the same time.
Cassini's successful passage this first time around reassured the team that the craft would survive 21 more precision passes inside the rings, scheduled to occur between now and the end of the mission in September.
"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", Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, said in the agency's post-crossing statement.