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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Rings ready for their close-up
The rings can be seen casting shadows on Saturn's northern hemisphere (Image: Nasa/JPL/ Space Science Institute)

A new close up image of Saturn and its rings taken by the Cassini space probe reveals just how close the European-US mission now is to its target.

Saturn's famous rings can be seen casting threadlike shadows on the gas giant's northern hemisphere.

The craft is now 19 million km from the planet, having travelled more than three billion km since its 1997 launch.

Cassini will insert into Saturn's orbit on 30 June and release its piggybacked Huygens probe in January next year.

Huygens will attempt to land on the oily seas of Saturn's major moon, Titan.

Saturn's thin, outermost F-ring can easily be discriminated in the new image.

The picture was taken on 10 May at a distance of 27.2 million km (16.9 million miles) from Saturn. Contrast in the image was enhanced to aid visibility.

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