Washington: A pockmarked, icy landscape looms beneath NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in new images of Saturn’s moon Dione taken during the mission’s last close approach to the small, icy world.
Two of the new images show the surface of Dione at the best resolution ever.
Cassini passed 474 km above Dione’s surface on Aug 17. This was the fifth close encounter with Dione during Cassini’s long tour at Saturn.
ÂgI am moved, as I know everyone else is, looking at these exquisite images of Dione’s surface and crescent, and knowing that they are the last we will see of this far-off world for a very long time to come,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
The main scientific focus of this flyby was gravity science, not imaging. This made capturing the images tricky as Cassini’s camera was not controlling where the spacecraft pointed.
Cassini scientists will study data from the gravity science experiment and magnetosphere and plasma science instruments over the next few months as they look for clues about Dione’s interior structure and processes affecting its surface.
The spacecraft is scheduled to make three approaches to the geologically active Saturn’s moon Enceladus on October 14 and 28 and December 19.
During the October 28 flyby, the spacecraft will come dizzyingly close to Enceladus, passing a mere 49 kms from the surface.
Cassini will make its deepest-ever dive through the moon’s plume of icy spray at this time, collecting valuable data about what’s going on beneath the surface. During the mission’s final year, Cassini will repeatedly dive through the space between Saturn and its rings.