October 31, 2014

05.02.11: Postcards from Saturn.

Rhea and friends…(Credit: Cassini/NASA/JPL).

Ahhhh, but to be a fly aboard a Saturn-circling mission… this weekend, I want to turn your attention to some fairly amazing imagery coming from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in orbit about Saturn. Cassini has just completed a flyby of several moons, including Enceladus, returned some first ever images of the tiny moon Helene, and on January 11th, took the close-up of Rhea pictured above. In the above image, the moon Dione is just above Rhea, and Prometheus and tiny Epimetheus is just off to the far left. And of course, the bright line above is the magnificent ring system. Ironically, most of the moons orbit near the plane of the rings, hence they don’t get the splendid vantage point we have on Earth. Browsing the recent archive of photos is worth it, to see just how different and unique the moons of Saturn really are. Worlds like Titan, for example, have an atmosphere thicker than Earth and would be considered a planet in its own right if it directly orbited the sun. Then there’s two faced Iapetus, and smaller moons that look like Swiss cheese. At the end of January, Cassini performed another flyby of Enceladus, again revealing an icy, active world that may harbor a subsurface ocean… just what’s going on under that icy exterior?    

One thing’s for sure, the Saturn system is a dynamic place, a realm where things are happening. With such an orbital ballet to view, we’re fortunate to have Cassini as or orbital eyes around such an intriguing system!

 

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