Saturn Spacecraft Returns To The Realm Of Icy Moons

Cassini's cameras captured images of the icy moon Rhea, as shown in these in two image mosaics. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini’s cameras captured images of the icy moon Rhea, as shown in these in two image mosaics. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

March 30, 2015 – A dual view of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea marks the return of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to the realm of the planet’s icy satellites. This follows nearly two years during which the spacecraft’s orbits carried it high above the planet’s poles. Those paths limited the mission’s ability to encounter the moons, apart from regular flybys of Titan.

The two views of Rhea were taken about an hour-and-a-half apart on February 9, 2015, when Cassini was about 30,000 to 50,000 miles (50,000 to 80,000 kilometers) away from the moon. Cassini officially began its new set of equatorial orbits on March 16.

The views show an expanded range of colors from those visible to human eyes in order to highlight subtle color variations across Rhea’s surface. Images taken using clear, green, infrared and ultraviolet spectral filters were combined to create these enhanced color views. In natural color, the moon’s surface is fairly uniform. The image at right represents the highest-resolution color view of Rhea released to date. A larger, monochrome mosaic is available in PIA07763.

Both views are orthographic projections facing toward terrain on the trailing hemisphere of Rhea. An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer looking through a telescope. The views have been rotated so that north on Rhea is up.

The mosaics each consist of multiple narrow-angle camera (NAC) images with data from the wide-angle camera used to fill in areas where NAC data was not available.

Cassini’s orbit will remain nearly equatorial for the remainder of 2015, during which the spacecraft will have four close encounters with Titan, two with Dione and three with the geyser-moon, Enceladus.

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 team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.