Category Archives: Cassini

Goodbye Mimas

Yesterday we saw Mimas and the colossal crater Herschel.  Today the other side.  this will also be our last close-in view of the moon.

There was also a version of this image release adjusted so the entire hemisphere is lit.

From NASA:

In its season of “lasts,” NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its final close approach to Saturn’s moon Mimas on January 30, 2017. At closest approach, Cassini passed 25,620 miles (41,230 kilometers) from Mimas. All future observations of Mimas will be from more than twice this distance.

This mosaic is one of the highest resolution views ever captured of the icy moon.

Close approaches to Mimas have been somewhat rare during Cassini’s mission, with only seven flybys at distances of less than 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers).

Mimas’ surface is pockmarked with countless craters, the largest of which gives the icy moon its distinctive appearance. (See PIA12568 for more info on Mimas’ distinctive crater, Herschel.)

Two versions of the mosaic are provided. In one, the left side, which is lit by reflected light from Saturn, has been enhanced in brightness in order to show the full surface. The second version features more natural illumination levels (Figure 1).

Imaging scientists combined ten narrow-angle camera images to create this mosaic view. The scene is an orthographic projection centered on terrain at 17.5 degrees south latitude, 325.4 degrees west longitude on Mimas. An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer looking through a telescope.

This mosaic was acquired at a distance of approximately 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) from Mimas. Image scale is approximately 820 feet (250 meters) per pixel. The images were taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Jan. 30, 2017.

Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


Herschel Crater

What a great look at the crater Herschel on the Saturn moon Mimas.

Herschel crater is 130 km / 80.8 miles across about a third the diameter of the moon itself. The walls of the crater are around 5 km / 3.1 miles high and a central peak is about 6 km / 3.7 miles tall, the impact was colossal.

Here’s NASA’s description:
Mimas’ gigantic crater Herschel lies near the moon’s limb in this Cassini view.

A big enough impact could potentially break up a moon. Luckily for Mimas, whatever created Herschel was not quite big enough to cause that level of disruption.

When large impacts happen, they deliver tremendous amounts of energy — sometimes enough to cause global destruction. Even impacts that are not catastrophic can leave enormous, near-permanent scars on bodies like Mimas (246 miles or 396 kilometers across).

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn hemisphere of Mimas. North on Mimas is up and rotated 32 degrees to the left. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 19, 2016.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 53,000 miles (85,000 kilometers) from Mimas. Image scale is 1,677 feet (511 meters) per pixel.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Propellers in Saturn’s Rings



Propellers in this case are seen as wave-like deformations in the rings of Saturn and are most likely caused by unseen “moons” and their gravitational pull.  The tiny moons are thought to be about a kilometer or about a half mile in diameter; not very big so the ring material must be rather fine.

The image above shows a propeller from both sides of  the rings.  Click the thumbnail for a larger version of the propeller

From NASA:
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured these remarkable views of a propeller feature in Saturn’s A ring on Feb. 21, 2017. These are the sharpest images taken of a propeller so far, and show an unprecedented level of detail. The propeller is nicknamed “Santos-Dumont,” after the pioneering Brazilian-French aviator.

This observation was Cassini’s first targeted flyby of a propeller. The views show the object from vantage points on opposite sides of the rings. The top image looks toward the rings’ sunlit side, while the bottom image shows the unilluminated side, where sunlight filters through the backlit ring.

The two images presented as figure 1 are reprojected at the same scale (0.13 mile or 207 meters per pixel) in order to facilitate comparison. The original images, which have slightly different scales, are also provided here, without reprojection, as figure 2; the sunlit-side image is at left, while the unlit-side image is at right.

Cassini scientists have been tracking the orbit of this object for the past decade, tracing the effect that the ring has upon it. Now, as Cassini has moved in close to the ring as part of its ring-grazing orbits, it was able to obtain this extreme close-up view of the propeller, enabling researchers to examine its effects on the ring. These views, and others like them, will inform models and studies in new ways going forward.

Like a frosted window, Saturn’s rings look different depending on whether they are seen fully sunlit or backlit. On the lit side, the rings look darker where there is less material to reflect sunlight. On the unlit side, some regions look darker because there is less material, but other regions look dark because there is so much material that the ring becomes opaque.

Observing the same propeller on both the lit and unlit sides allows scientists to gather richer information about how the moonlet affects the ring. For example, in the unlit-side view, the broad, dark band through the middle of the propeller seems to be a combination of both empty and opaque regions.

The propeller’s central moonlet would only be a couple of pixels across in these images, and may not actually be resolved here. The lit-side image shows that a bright, narrow band of material connects the moonlet directly to the larger ring, in agreement with dynamical models. That same thin band of material may also be obscuring the moonlet from view.

Lengthwise along the propeller is a gap in the ring that the moonlet has pried open. The gap appears dark on both the lit and unlit sides. Flanking the gap near the moonlet are regions of enhanced density, which appear bright on the lit side and more mottled on the unlit side.

One benefit of the high resolution of these images is that, for the first time, wavy edges are clearly visible in the gap. These waves are also expected from dynamical models, and they emphasize that the gap must be sharp-edged. Furthermore, the distance between the wave crests tells scientists the width of the gap (1.2 miles or 2 kilometers), which in turn reveals the mass of the central moonlet. From these measurements, Cassini imaging scientists deduce that the moonlet’s mass is comparable to that of a snowball about 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) wide.

The Dichotomy of Enceladus

We had a wee bit of a server issue and that is now resolved and we can return to our normal schedule.

One of the odd things about the Saturn moon Enceladus aside from and thanks to the geysers is how different the landscape is from north to south.


Enceladus is a world divided. To the north, we see copious amounts of craters and evidence of the many impacts the moon has suffered in its history. However, to the south we see a smoother body with wrinkles due to geologic activity.

Most solar system bodies lacking an atmosphere are heavily cratered like Enceladus’ (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) northern region. However, the geologic activity in the south, including the famous plume above the moon’s south pole, can erase craters and leave a younger, smoother-looking surface.

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn hemisphere of Enceladus. North on Enceladus is up and rotated 4 degrees to the right. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2016.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 41,000 miles (66,000 kilometers) from Enceladus. Image scale is 1,310 feet (398 meters) per pixel.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


Cassini took this image of the crater Creusa on the Saturn moon Dione on 26 November 2016 with a nice angle to show the crater nicely.

I changed the image a little to bring out some of the details, the original version can be seen here.

NASA’s caption:
When viewed from a distance with the sun directly behind Cassini, the larger, brighter craters really stand out on moons like Dione.

Among these larger craters, some leave bright ray patterns across the moon, calling attention to their existence and to the violence of their creation.

The rayed crater seen here on Dione (698 miles, or 1,123 kilometers across) is named Creusa. The rays are brighter material blasted out by the impact that formed the crater. Scientists can use the patterns of ejecta (like these rays), to help determine the order of geological events on a moon’s surface by examining which features lie on top of other features.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing side of Dione. North on Dione is up and rotated 31 degrees to the right. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 26, 2016 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 727 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 350,000 miles (560,000 kilometers) from Dione. Image scale is 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel.

Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Daphnis Making Waves

Daphnis making waves in the rings of Saturn,  yes we saw this image a little while ago, NASA added more images to show more of the waves caused the gravity of the moon – a lot more.

Daphnis, one of Saturn’s ring-embedded moons, is featured in this view, kicking up waves as it orbits within the Keeler gap. The mosaic combines several images to show more waves in the gap edges than seen in a previously released image, PIA21056.

Daphnis is a small moon at 5 miles (8 kilometers) across, but its gravity is powerful enough to disrupt the tiny particles of the A ring that form the Keeler gap’s edge. As the moon moves through the Keeler gap, wave-like features are created in both the horizontal and vertical plane. For more about these vertical structures see PIA11654 and PIA11547.

Images like this provide scientists with a close-up view of the complicated interactions between a moon and the rings, as well as the interactions between the ring particles themselves, in the wake of the moon’s passage. Three wave crests of diminishing sizes trail Daphnis here. In each subsequent crest, the shape of the wave evolves, as the ring particles within the crests collide with one another.

Close examination of Daphnis’ immediate vicinity also reveals a faint, thin strand of ring material that almost appears to have been directly ripped out of the A ring by Daphnis.

The images in this mosaic were taken in visible light, using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) from Daphnis and at a Sun-Daphnis-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 71 degrees. Image scale is 551 feet (168 meters) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


A nice image of the Saturn moon Enceladus from Cassini. The thought of a global ocean with liquid water that far away is amazing.

From NASA:
Seen from outside, Enceladus appears to be like most of its sibling moons: cold, icy and inhospitable. But under that forbidding exterior may exist the very conditions needed for life.

Over the course of the Cassini mission, observations have shown that Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) not only has watery jets sending icy grains into space; under its icy crust it also has a global ocean, and may have hydrothermal activity as well. Since scientists believe liquid water is a key ingredient for life, the implications for future missions searching for life elsewhere in our solar system could be significant.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Enceladus. North on Enceladus is up and rotated 6 degrees to the right. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2016.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 81,000 miles (130,000 kilometers) from Enceladus. Image scale is 2,566 feet (782 meters) per pixel.

Saturn Straw

This Cassini image features a density wave in Saturn’s A ring (at left) that lies around 134,500 km from Saturn. Density waves are accumulations of particles at certain distances from the planet. This feature is filled with clumpy perturbations, which researchers informally refer to as “straw.” The wave itself is created by the gravity of the moons Janus and Epimetheus, which share the same orbit around Saturn. Elsewhere, the scene is dominated by “wakes” from a recent pass of the ring moon Pan.

Two versions of this image are available. This is a lightly processed version, with minimal enhancement, preserving all original details present in the image. The other version (Figure 1) has been processed to remove the small bright blemishes caused by cosmic rays and charged particle radiation near the planet — a more aesthetically pleasing image, but with a slight softening of the finest details.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Dec. 18, 2016. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 34,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) from the rings and looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings. Image scale is about a quarter-mile (340 meters) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Tethys and Odysseus

Each time we get a picture of a moon from Cassini it’s hard to know if it will be the last, especially one that has such a good angle on a magnificent landmark like the crater Odysseus.

Original caption from the Cassini team:

Tethys, one of Saturn’s larger icy moons, vaguely resembles an eyeball staring off into space in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The resemblance is due to the enormous crater, Odysseus, and its complex of central peaks.

Like any solar system moon, Tethys (660 miles or 1,062 kilometers across) has suffered many impacts. These impacts are a prime shaper of the appearance of a moon’s surface , especially when the moon has no active geological processes. In this case, a large impact not only created a crater known as Odysseus, but the rebound of the impact caused the mountainous peaks, named Scheria Montes, to form in the center of the crater.

This view looks toward the leading side of Tethys. North on Tethys is up and rotated 1 degree to the left. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 10, 2016.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 228,000 miles (367,000 kilometers) from Tethys. Image scale is 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


Probably one of our last views of Daphnis from Cassini. The moon appears to be traveling towards the right in this image.

From Cassini:

The wavemaker moon, Daphnis, is featured in this view, taken as NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made one of its ring-grazing passes over the outer edges of Saturn’s rings on Jan. 16, 2017. This is the closest view of the small moon obtained yet.

Daphnis (5 miles or 8 kilometers across) orbits within the 42-kilometer (26-mile) wide Keeler Gap. Cassini’s viewing angle causes the gap to appear narrower than it actually is, due to foreshortening.

The little moon’s gravity raises waves in the edges of the gap in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Cassini was able to observe the vertical structures in 2009, around the time of Saturn’s equinox (see PIA11654).

Like a couple of Saturn’s other small ring moons, Atlas and Pan, Daphnis appears to have a narrow ridge around its equator and a fairly smooth mantle of material on its surface — likely an accumulation of fine particles from the rings. A few craters are obvious at this resolution. An additional ridge can be seen further north that runs parallel to the equatorial band.

Fine details in the rings are also on display in this image. In particular, a grainy texture is seen in several wide lanes which hints at structures where particles are clumping together. In comparison to the otherwise sharp edges of the Keeler Gap, the wave peak in the gap edge at left has a softened appearance. This is possibly due to the movement of fine ring particles being spread out into the gap following Daphnis’ last close approach to that edge on a previous orbit.

A faint, narrow tendril of ring material follows just behind Daphnis (to its left). This may have resulted from a moment when Daphnis drew a packet of material out of the ring, and now that packet is spreading itself out.

The image was taken in visible (green) light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) from Daphnis and at a Sun-Daphnis-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 71 degrees. Image scale is 551 feet (168 meters) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute