Friday, December 23, 2011

NASA's Cassini Delivers Holiday Treats From Saturn

No team of reindeer, but radio signals flying clear across the solar system from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have delivered a holiday package of glorious images. The pictures, from Cassini's imaging team, show Saturn's largest, most colorful ornament, Titan, and other icy baubles in orbit around this splendid planet. 

Saturn's third-largest moon Dione can be seen through the haze of its largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. 
Titan and Dione
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The release includes images of satellite conjunctions in which one moon passes in front of or behind another. Cassini scientists regularly make these observations to study the ever-changing orbits of the planet's moons. But even in these routine images, the Saturnian system shines. A few of Saturn's stark, airless, icy moons appear to dangle next to the orange orb of Titan, the only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere. Titan's atmosphere is of great interest because of its similarities to the atmosphere believed to exist long ago on the early Earth.

The colorful globe of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, passes in front of the planet and its rings in this true color snapshot from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The north polar hood can be seen on Titan (3200 miles, 5150 kilometers across) and appears as a detached layer at the top of the moon here. See PIA08137 and PIA09739 to learn more about Titan's atmosphere and the north polar hood. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ring plane.
Titan 
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 21, 2011 at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Titan. Image scale is 9 miles (14 kilometers) per pixel on Titan.

While it may be wintry in Earth's northern hemisphere, it is currently northern spring in the Saturnian system and it will remain so for several Earth years. Current plans to extend the Cassini mission through 2017 will supply a continued bounty of scientifically rewarding and majestic views of Saturn and its moons and rings, as spectators are treated to the passage of northern spring and the arrival of summer in May 2017.

Saturn's moon Tethys, with its stark white icy surface, peeps out from behind the larger, hazy, colorful Titan in this Cassini view of the two moons. Saturn's rings lie between the two.

The north polar hood can be seen on Titan appearing as a detached layer at the top of the moon here. See PIA08137 andPIA09739 to learn more about Titan's atmosphere and the north polar hood.

Ithaca Chasma, a long series of scarps or cliffs on Tethys, faintly can be seen running north-south on that moon. SeePIA10460 to learn more.

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Titan (3200 miles, 5150 kilometers across) and the Saturn-facing side of Tethys (660 miles, 1062 kilometers across). This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ring plane.
Saturn's moon Tethys and Titan
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were acquired with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 21, 2011 at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Titan and 2.4 million miles (3.8 million kilometers) from Tethys. Image scale is 9 miles (14 kilometers) per pixel on Titan and 18 miles (27 kilometers) per pixel on Tethys.

"As another year traveling this magnificent sector of our solar system draws to a close, all of us on Cassini wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday season, " said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

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 Cassini-Huygens 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 team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Contacts and sources:
Jia-Rui Cook 
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Joe Mason  
Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

 More information about Cassini mission is online at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .  The images are online at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassinihttp://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://ciclops.org . 

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