Nasa's space probe Cassini, which is on its final mission of performing 22 planned dives through the rings of Saturn, has sent back spectacular images from space.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) used the Deep Space Network (a group of telescopes that communicate with distant objects in space) to pick up Cassini's far-off signal. As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within 3,000km of Saturn's cloud tops and within about 300km of the innermost visible edge of the rings.

"No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at Nasa.

"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," he added.

While Nasa was confident of Cassini's pass through the gap, they took extra precautions as the region has never been explored before. Cassini's next dive between Saturn and its innermost rings is scheduled for 2 May.

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been an integral part of discovering Saturn, its atmosphere and its various Moons. In September, the spacecraft is scheduled to take its final dive, what scientists are calling as the "Grand Finale". During this final chapter, Cassini will loop Saturn once a week and finally plummet straight into Saturn.

These unprocessed images show features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute