Triple Crescent


Triple CrescentSaturn has many moons. The three shown here—Titan, Mimas, and Rhea—show marked contrasts in their surface features. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the largest moon in this image, appears fuzzy because we only see its clouds. Because Titan’s atmosphere refracts light around the moon, its crescent is wrapped just a little further around the moon than it would on an airless body. Rhea (upper left) appears rough because its icy surface is heavily cratered. A close inspection of Mimas, though difficult to see at this scale, would show surface irregularities because of its violent history.

Image Credit: NASA

One more thing … If it’s clear where you are this evening, go outside and look up in the western sky just after sunset. There’s a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter tonight. They will be separated by less than half the diameter of the Full Moon.

Tethys Eyes Saturn


Tethys and SaturnIn this picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft last April, the two large craters on Tethys near the line where day fades to night seem to be looking at Saturn. (Click the image to embiggen it.)

The shadowing on the craters caused by being near Tethys’ terminator throws their topography into sharp relief. The larger, southernmost of the two shows a more complex structure. Its central peak is  probably the result of the surface reacting to the violent post-impact excavation of the crater. The northern crater doesn’t have a similar feature. The impact was likely too small to form a central peak, or the composition of the material in the immediate vicinity couldn’t support the formation of a central peak.

Image Credit: NASA

Odysseus


Tethys with craterOdysseus is the name of the huge crater on Saturn’s moon Tethys. Tethys is a bit more than 1000 km in diameter, and the crater is roughy 450 km across. To put that into scale, a crater that covered the same percentage of the Earth’s surface would be about the size of Africa.

Image Credit: NASA

Hyperion Close Up


hyperion20150531This picture of Saturn’s moon Hyperion was taken by Cassini during a fly by last Sunday. Hyperion is the largest of Saturn’s irregular, potato-shaped moons. It may be left over from a violent collision that shattered a larger object.

Image Credit: NASA

UPDATE—Broken link to image fixed.

Hyperion


HyperionThe Cassini spacecraft will make its last close approach to Saturn’s large, irregularly shaped moon Hyperion tomorrow. Cassini will pass by Hyperion at a distance of about 34,000 km at around 13:36  UTC. Images should arrive from the encounter to within 24 to 48 hours.

Hyperion rotates chaotically, tumbling unpredictably as it orbits Saturn. That makes it  challenging to target a specific region of the moon’s surface, and most of Cassini‘s previous close approaches have seen the same side of the craggy moon. The view above is from the closest encounter back in 2005. Mission scientists have hopes of seeing different terrain on Hyperion than the mission has previously explored in detail during tomorrow’s encounter, but this is not guaranteed.

BTW, the first time I saw this picture, I was reminded of a wasps’ nest.

Image Credit: NASA

Mimas and Atlas (If You Look Carefully)


converted PNM fileThe great eye of Saturn’s moon Mimas is a 130-km-wide impact crater called Herschel. It seems to be looking back at you in this picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft. The small moon Atlas is also visible (sort of) just outside the main rings. You’re probably mistaking it for a bit of dust on you monitor. Mimas is 397 km across; Atlas is 32 km across.

Image Credit: NASA

Not All Rings Are Equal


ringsSaturn has multiple rings around the planet. While there isn’t one ring to rule them all, not all of them are equal. The D ring appears fainter than the C ring because it is comprised of less material. However, even rings as thin as the D ring can pose hazards to spacecraft. Given the high speeds at which the Cassini spacecraft travels,collisions with particles just fractions of a millimeter in size have the potential to damage key components. Nonetheless, near the end of Cassini’s mission, missionnavigators plan to thread the spacecraft’s orbit through the narrow region between the D ring and the top of the planet’s atmosphere.

Image Credit: NASA