NASA'S Cassini spacecraft captures Saturnian moon ballet

Jun 22, 2006
A Tale of Two Moons
Many denizens of the Saturn system wear a uniformly gray mantle of darkened ice, but not so for these two most fascinating of moons. The brightest body in the Solar System, Enceladus, is contrasted here against Titan's smoggy golden murk. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute Released: June 21, 2006 (PIA 07787)

The cold, icy orbs of the Saturn system come to life in a slew of new movie clips showing the ringed planet's moons in motion.

Many denizens of the Saturn system wear a uniformly gray mantle of darkened ice, but not so for these two most fascinating of moons. The brightest body in the Solar System, Enceladus, is contrasted here against Titan's smoggy golden murk.

Ironically, what these two moons hold in common gives rise to their starkly contrasting colors. Both bodies are, to varying degrees, geologically active. For Enceladus, its southern polar vents emit a spray of icy particles that coats the small moon, giving it a clean, white veneer. On Titan, as-yet-undefined processes are supplying the atmosphere with methane and other chemicals that are broken down by sunlight, creating the thick yellow-orange haze that suffuses the atmosphere and, over geologic time, falls and coats the surface.

The thin, bluish haze along Titan’s limb is caused when sunlight is scattered by haze particles roughly the same size as the wavelength of blue light, or around 400 nanometers.

Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were obtained on Feb. 5, 2006 using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera at a distance of 4.1 million kilometers (2.5 million miles) from Enceladus and 5.3 million kilometers (3.3 miles) from Titan. Resolution in the original images was 25 kilometers (16 miles) per pixel on Enceladus and 32 kilometers (20 miles) per pixel on Titan. The view has been magnified by a factor of two.

In addition to their drama and visual interest, scientists use these movies to refine their understanding of the orbits of Saturn's moons. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., use the same images, and the orbital positions of the moons, to help them navigate the Cassini spacecraft, which is nearing the halfway mark of its four-year tour.

Pictures capturing several moons in one frame are often strikingly beautiful, especially when deliberately imaged in red, green and blue spectral filters, which allow scientists to create a color photo. One recent color image shows two of Saturn's most fascinating moons, icy-white Enceladus and orange, haze-enshrouded 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 Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Source: Space Science Institute

Explore further: Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cassini sees Saturn and moons in holiday dress

Dec 23, 2013

(Phys.org) —This holiday season, feast your eyes on images of Saturn and two of its most fascinating moons, Titan and Enceladus, in a care package from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. All three bodies are dressed ...

Portrait Earth: Wave at Saturn and Cassini July 19

Jul 16, 2013

Smile and say, "Cosmic cheese!" From 898 million miles away, NASA's Cassini-Huygens spacecraft will snap a portrait of Earth July 19 from between Saturn's rings as North America and the Atlantic Ocean repose on the sunny ...

Cassini to dip into Enceladus spray again

Apr 16, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Less than three weeks after its last visit to the Saturnian moon Enceladus, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returns for an encore. At closest approach on April 14, the spacecraft will be just as low ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

10 hours ago

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

Research group to study interstellar molecules

Apr 11, 2014

From April 2014, a new group will study interstellar molecules and use them to explore the entire star and planet formation process at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. Newly appointed ...

Astronomers suggest more accurate star formation rates

Apr 10, 2014

(Phys.org) —Astronomers have found a new way of predicting the rate at which a molecular cloud—a stellar nursery—will form new stars. Using a novel technique to reconstruct a cloud's 3-D structure, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...