Friday, December 2, 2005

Moons of Saturn

The Cassini robotic spacecraft orbiting around Saturn turns in marvelous science data day after day. The Cassini team also took the trouble to chart when the spacecraft happened to be in places where particularly spectacular pictures could be taken — without regard to their scientific value — and made time in the schedule to take those pictures. This is one of those images.

From the official Cassini-Huygens web site:

In a rare moment, the Cassini spacecraft captured this enduring portrait of a near-alignment of four of Saturn’s restless moons. Timing is critical when trying to capture a view of multiple bodies, like this one. All four of the moons seen here were on the far side of the rings from the spacecraft when this image was taken; and about an hour later, all four had disappeared behind Saturn.

Seen here are Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across) and Dione (1,126 kilometers, or 700 miles across) at bottom; Prometheus (102 kilometers, or 63 miles across) hugs the rings at center; Telesto (24 kilometers, or 15 miles across) is a mere speck in the darkness above center.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini narrow-angle camera on Oct. 17, 2005 at a distance of approximately 3.4 million kilometers (2.1 million miles) from Dione and 2.5 million kilometers (1.6 miles) from Titan. The image scale is 16 kilometers (10 miles) per pixel on Dione and 21 kilometers (13 miles) per pixel on Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, 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, D.C. 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, Colo.

Click on the thumbnail to get a larger view — it’s quite spectacular.

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