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Cassini tickles Saturn's rings ahead of final death plunge

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Justin Martinez
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September set for point of no return

The Cassini space probe has begun a series of orbits designed to swing it through the edges of Saturn's ring system.

The probe, which has been orbiting the gas giant since 2004, fired a six-second burst of its rocket motor at 0409 PT 1209 UTC to put it into a swooping orbit 57,000 miles 91,000 kilometers over the gas giant.

That diversion sent it through a small dusty outer ring of the planet and within 6,800 miles 11,000 kilometers of the outer F ring system.

"It's taken years of planning, but now that we're finally here, the whole Cassini team is excited to begin studying the data that come from these ring-grazing orbits," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL .

"This is a remarkable time in what's already been a thrilling journey."

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