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Old 10-01-2010, 05:29 PM   #16
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SPACE.com: "Cassini Spacecraft Begins New Study of Saturn's Seasons".

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Check out this amazing new Cassini image!


Highlighting Plumes.



At least four distinct plumes of water ice spew out from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus in this dramatically illuminated image.

Light reflected off Saturn is illuminating the surface of the moon while the sun, almost directly behind Enceladus, is backlighting the plumes. See PIA11688 to learn more about Enceladus and its plumes.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing side of Enceladus (504 kilometers, 313 miles across). North is up.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Dec. 25, 2009. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 617,000 kilometers (383,000 miles) from Enceladus and at a Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 174 degrees. Image scale is 4 kilometers (2 miles) per pixel.

The Cassini Equinox Mission is a joint United States and European endeavor. 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 was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. 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.

For more information about the Cassini Equinox Mission visit http://ciclops.org, www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
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Old 10-01-2010, 06:28 PM   #17
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Marvellous image, Cassini just keeps going.

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Old 10-09-2010, 08:30 PM   #18
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NASA: "Saturn's Icy Moon May Keep Oceans Liquid with Wobble".

JPL: "Cassini Catches Saturn Moons in Paintball Fight".

---------- Post added 9th Oct 2010 at 09:30 PM ---------- Previous post was 8th Oct 2010 at 11:13 PM ----------

SpaceRef: "NASA Cassini Images: Two Snapshots Of Titan".
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Old 10-19-2010, 09:56 PM   #19
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JPL: "The (Long) Weekend Warrior: Nine Moons, 62 Hours".


These three views of Saturn's moon Rhea were made from data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI/LPI.
› Full image and caption.


Taking a long-weekend road trip, NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully glided near nine Saturnian moons, sending back a stream of raw images as mementos of its adrenaline-fueled expedition. The spacecraft sent back particularly intriguing images of the moons Dione and Rhea.

The Dione and Rhea pictures are the highest-resolution views yet of parts of their surfaces. The views of the southern part of Dione's leading hemisphere (the part of the moon that faces forward in its orbit around Saturn) and the equatorial region of Rhea's leading hemisphere are more detailed than the last time we saw these terrains with NASA's Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s.

Of the five big icy moons of Saturn, Dione and Rhea are often considered a pair because they orbit close to each other, are darker than the others, and exhibit similar patterns of light reflecting off them. These new images, however, highlight the differences between these sister moons.

Both images show similar geographic regions on each satellite. However, scientists can identify differences in geological histories of the two bodies from differences in the numbers and sizes of visible craters on their surfaces. The number and size of craters on a body's surface help indicate the age of that surface – the more craters there are and the larger they are, the older the surface is.

Rhea, for example, shows ancient, intense bombardments throughout this region. However, the same region of Dione is divided into distinct areas that exhibit variations in the number and size of preserved craters. In particular, while parts of Dione are heavily cratered like Rhea, there are other areas covered by relatively smooth plains. Those areas have many small craters, but few large impact scars, which indicates that they are geologically younger than the heavily cratered areas. The smooth plains must have been resurfaced at some point in Dione's past -- an event that seems to be missing from Rhea's geological history on this side of the moon.

Images of the moon Mimas, captured just before it went into shadow behind Saturn, will be compared to thermal maps made earlier this year that showed an unexpected "Pac-Man" heat pattern. (See for more details.)

Cassini also caught a picture of the tiny, 4-kilometer-wide (3-mile-wide) moon Pallene, in front of the planet Saturn, which is more than 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) wide at its equator.

Cassini's elliptical orbital pattern around Saturn means it can target moons for flybys about once or twice a month. The flybys on this particular Cassini road trip were "non-targeted" flybys, meaning navigators did not refine Cassini's path to fly over particular points on each moon.

Cassini's long weekend started on Thursday, Oct. 14, at 5:07 p.m. UTC (9:07 a.m. PDT), when it passed by Saturn's largest moon Titan at an altitude of 172,368 kilometers (107,104 miles) above the surface. Then came a whirlwind 21 hours in which Cassini flew by Polydeuces at 116,526 kilometers (72,406 miles), Mimas at 69,950 kilometers (43,465 miles), Pallene at 36,118 kilometers (22,443 miles), Telesto at 48,455 kilometers (30,109 miles), Methone at 105,868 kilometers (65,783 miles), Aegaeon at 96,754 kilometers (60,120 miles) and Dione at 31,710 kilometers (19,704 miles). Cassini's last visit -- Rhea at 38,752 kilometers (24,079 miles) – took place at 6:47 a.m. UTC on Oct. 17 (10:47 p.m. PDT on Oct. 16).

Scientists decided in advance which observations they wanted to make while the spacecraft was cruising past all the moons. They chose to obtain images of Titan, Mimas, Pallene, Dione and Rhea. They also obtained thermal scans of Mimas, Dione and Rhea.

For more raw images, visit: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

More Cassini information is available, at www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

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The Planetary Society Blog: "Every-other-line truncation of Cassini images".
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Old 10-20-2010, 11:46 PM   #20
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JPL: "Spring Has Sprung ... On Titan".


NASA's Cassini spacecraft obtained this raw image of Saturn's moon Titan on Oct. 18, 2010. Bright clouds streak the moon's midsection, likely an indication of changing seasons and the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere. Cassini's imaging camera was about 2.5 million kilometers (1.5 million miles) away from Titan. The rings of Saturn faintly etch the left side of this image. The image has not been validated or calibrated. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
> Full image and caption.


NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent back dreamy raw images of Saturn's moon Titan that show the appearance of clouds around the moon's midsection. These bright clouds likely appeared because the moon is changing seasons and spring has arrived in Titan's northern hemisphere. The images were taken from about 2.5 million kilometers (1.5 million miles) away from Titan on Oct. 18, 2010, and also show the faint etchings of Saturn's rings. One of the new raw images also features a cameo from the icy moon Tethys, which looks smaller and brighter than Titan in the image.

More raw images are online at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

More Cassini information is available at www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

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The Planetary Society Blog: "A Rhea flyby and a cloudy Titan with Tethys in color".
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Old 11-02-2010, 03:36 AM   #21
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NASA JPL:
Cassini Sees Saturn Rings Oscillate Like Mini-Galaxy

November 01, 2010

Scientists believe they finally understand why one of the most dynamic regions in Saturn's rings has such an irregular and varying shape, thanks to images captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. And the answer, published online today in the Astronomical Journal, is this: The rings are behaving like a miniature version of our own Milky Way galaxy.

This new insight, garnered from images of Saturn's most massive ring, the B ring, may answer another long-standing question: What causes the bewildering variety of structures seen throughout the very densest regions of Saturn's rings?

Another finding from new images of the B ring's outer edge was the presence of at least two perturbed regions, including a long arc of narrow, shadow-casting peaks as high as 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) above the ring plane. The areas are likely populated with small moons that might have migrated across the outer part of the B ring in the past and got trapped in a zone affected by the moon Mimas' gravity. This process is commonly believed to have configured the present-day solar system.

"We have found what we hoped we'd find when we set out on this journey with Cassini nearly 13 years ago: visibility into the mechanisms that have sculpted not only Saturn's rings, but celestial disks of a far grander scale, from solar systems, like our own, all the way to the giant spiral galaxies," said Carolyn Porco, co-author on the new paper and Cassini imaging team lead, based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

New images and movies of the outer B ring edge can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini, http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://ciclops.org .

Since NASA's Voyager spacecraft flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981, scientists have known that the outer edge of the planet's B ring was shaped like a rotating, flattened football by the gravitational perturbations of Mimas. But it was clear, even in Voyager's findings, that the outer B ring's behavior was far more complex than anything Mimas alone might do.

Now, analysis of thousands of Cassini images of the B ring taken over a four-year period has revealed the source of most of the complexity: at least three additional, independently rotating wave patterns, or oscillations, that distort the B ring's edge. These oscillations, with one, two or three lobes, are not created by any moons. They have instead spontaneously arisen, in part because the ring is dense enough, and the B ring edge is sharp enough, for waves to grow on their own and then reflect at the edge.

"These oscillations exist for the same reason that guitar strings have natural modes of oscillation, which can be excited when plucked or otherwise disturbed," said Joseph Spitale, lead author on today's article and an imaging team associate at the Space Science Institute. "The ring, too, has its own natural oscillation frequencies, and that's what we're observing."

Astronomers believe such "self-excited" oscillations exist in other disk systems, like spiral disk galaxies and proto-planetary disks found around nearby stars, but they have not been able to directly confirm their existence. The new observations confirm the first large-scale wave oscillations of this type in a broad disk of material anywhere in nature.

Self-excited waves on small, 100-meter (300-foot) scales have been previously observed by Cassini instruments in a few dense ring regions and have been attributed to a process called "viscous overstability." In that process, the ring particles' small, random motions feed energy into a wave and cause it to grow. The new results confirm a Voyager-era predication that this same process can explain all the puzzling chaotic waveforms found in Saturn's densest rings, from tens of meters up to hundreds of kilometers wide.

"Normally viscosity, or resistance to flow, damps waves -- the way sound waves traveling through the air would die out," said Peter Goldreich, a planetary ring theorist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "But the new findings show that, in the densest parts of Saturn's rings, viscosity actually amplifies waves, explaining mysterious grooves first seen in images taken by the Voyager spacecraft."

The two perturbed B ring regions found orbiting within Mimas' zone of influence stretch along arcs up to 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) long. The longest one was first seen last year when the sun's low angle on the ring plane betrayed the existence of a series of tall structures through their long, spiky shadows. The small moons disturbing the material are probably hundreds of meters to possibly a kilometer or more in size.

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. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

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Space Daily: Cassini Sees Saturn Rings Oscillate Like Mini-Galaxy.
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Old 11-05-2010, 12:29 AM   #22
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NASA JPL:
Engineers Assessing Cassini Spacecraft

November 04, 2010

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are working to understand what caused NASA's Cassini spacecraft to put itself into "safe mode," a precautionary standby mode. Cassini entered safe mode around 4 p.m. PDT (7 p.m. EDT) on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Since going into safe mode, the spacecraft has performed as expected, suspending the flow of science data and sending back only data about engineering and spacecraft health. Cassini is programmed to put itself into safe mode automatically any time it detects a condition on the spacecraft that requires action from mission controllers on the ground.

Engineers say it is not likely that Cassini will be able to resume full operations before a planned Nov. 11 flyby of Saturn's moon Titan. But Cassini has 53 more Titan flybys planned in its extended mission, which lasts until 2017.

"The spacecraft responded exactly as it should have, and I fully expect that we will get Cassini back up and running with no problems," said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager based at JPL. "Over the more than six years we have been at Saturn, this is only the second safing event. So considering the complexity of demands we have made on Cassini, the spacecraft has performed exceptionally well for us."

Since Cassini launched in 1997, Cassini has put itself into safe mode a total of six times.

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.
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Old 11-06-2010, 11:43 AM   #23
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SPACE.com: Cassini Spacecraft Malfunction Prevents Flyby of Saturn's Moon Titan.

Wired Science: NASA: Cassini Camera Will Be Offline Until Nov. 24:
Quote:
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The spacecraft is healthy, but will be convalescing until Nov. 24, said Cassini program manager Bob Mitchell of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

NASA engineers determined that some command files were corrupted en route from Earth to Saturn. Usually Cassini’s computers reject any corrupted commands, but somehow this one got through, Mitchell said.

The data stream may have been interrupted by solar flares, which spew jets of charged plasma into space and are known to pose problems for Earth-orbiting satellites as well.

The craft automatically triggers its safe-mode settings whenever something happens that requires attention from mission controllers on the ground. Since going into safe mode (what NASA terms a “safing event”), Cassini has stopped collecting science data and sent back only data on engineering and spacecraft health.

That’s normal, Mitchell said. “The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do,” he told Wired.com. When the satellite reboots, “it will be as though nothing had ever happened, as far as the spacecraft is concerned.”

But the Cassini team will probably elect to leave the orbiter in safe mode until the next scheduled data-collecting sequence begins on Nov. 24, Michell added. Engineers will need to reset a lot of values in Cassini’s software by hand, such as indicators for which instruments are on and how much power is being used.

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Old 11-10-2010, 06:24 PM   #24
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NASA JPL:
Status Update: Cassini to Resume Nominal Operations

November 09, 2010

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., expect the Cassini spacecraft will resume normal operations on Nov. 24. They have traced the steps taken by an onboard computer before Cassini put itself in precautionary "safe mode" last week.

Mission managers determined that the spacecraft went into safe mode because of a flip of a bit in the command and data system computer. The bit flip prevented the computer from registering an important instruction, and the spacecraft, as programmed, went into the standby mode. Engineers are still working to understand why the bit flipped.

Since the spacecraft went into safe mode on Nov. 2, the onboard computer with the bit flip has been reset and one of the science instruments has been turned back on to keep it warm. Over the next week or so, engineers will bring the rest of the science instruments back online.

Playback from the computer's memory is enabling engineers to extract science data collected before the spacecraft entered safe mode. The flow of science data is expected to resume when the instruments are powered back on next week.

"The bit flip happened in exactly the wrong location -- almost any place else would have merely resulted in a rejected command -- but the spacecraft responded exactly as programmed," said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL. "Cassini is in excellent shape, and we are looking forward to the next seven years of this mission."

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NASA JPL:
Cassini Sees Saturn on a Cosmic Dimmer Switch

November 10, 2010

Like a cosmic lightbulb on a dimmer switch, Saturn emitted gradually less energy each year from 2005 to 2009, according to observations by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. But unlike an ordinary bulb, Saturn's southern hemisphere consistently emitted more energy than its northern one. On top of that, energy levels changed with the seasons and differed from the last time a spacecraft visited Saturn in the early 1980s. These never-before-seen trends came from a detailed analysis of long-term data from the composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS), an instrument built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., as well as a comparison with earlier data from NASA's Voyager spacecraft. When combined with information about the energy coming to Saturn from the sun, the results could help scientists understand the nature of Saturn's internal heat source.

"The fact that Saturn actually emits more than twice the energy it absorbs from the sun has been a puzzle for many decades now," said Kevin Baines, a Cassini team scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and a co-author on a new paper about Saturn's energy output. "What generates that extra energy? This paper represents the first step in that analysis."

The research, reported this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, was led by Liming Li of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. (now at the University of Houston).

"The Cassini CIRS data are very valuable because they give us a nearly complete picture of Saturn," Li said. "This is the only single data set that provides so much information about this planet, and it's the first time that anybody has been able to study the power emitted by one of the giant planets in such detail."

The planets in our solar system lose energy in the form of heat radiation in wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye. The CIRS instrument picks up wavelengths in the thermal infrared region, far enough beyond red light where the wavelengths correspond to heat emission.

"In planetary science, we tend to think of planets as losing power evenly in all directions and at a steady rate," Li said. "Now we know Saturn is not doing that." (Power is the amount of energy emitted per unit of time.)

Instead, Saturn's flow of outgoing energy was lopsided, with its southern hemisphere giving off about one-sixth more energy than the northern one, Li explains. This effect matched Saturn's seasons: during those five Earth-years, it was summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the northern one. (A season on Saturn lasts about seven Earth-years.) Like Earth, Saturn has these seasons because the planet is tilted on its axis, so one hemisphere receives more energy from the sun and experiences summer, while the other receives less energy and is shrouded in winter. Saturn's equinox, when the sun was directly over the equator, occurred in August 2009.

In the study, Saturn's seasons looked Earth-like in another way: in each hemisphere, its effective temperature, which characterizes its thermal emission to space, started to warm up or cool down as a change of season approached. The effective temperature provides a simple way to track the response of Saturn's atmosphere to the seasonal changes, which is complicated because Saturn's weather is variable and the atmosphere tends to retain heat. Cassini's observations revealed that the effective temperature in the northern hemisphere gradually dropped from 2005 to 2008 and started to warm up again by 2009. In the southern hemisphere, the effective temperature cooled from 2005 to 2009.

The emitted energy for each hemisphere rose and fell along with the effective temperature. Even so, during this five-year period, the planet as a whole seemed to be slowly cooling down and emitting less energy.

To find out if similar changes were happening one Saturn-year ago, the researchers looked at data collected by the Voyager spacecraft in 1980 and 1981 and did not see the imbalance between the southern and northern hemispheres. Instead, the two regions were much more consistent with each other.

Why wouldn't Voyager have seen the same summer-versus-winter difference between the two hemispheres? One explanation is that cloud patterns at depth could have fluctuated, blocking and scattering infrared light differently.

"It's reasonable to think that the changes in Saturn's emitted power are related to cloud cover," says Amy Simon-Miller, who heads the Planetary Systems Laboratory at Goddard and is a co-author on the paper. "As the amount of cloud cover changes, the amount of radiation escaping into space also changes. This might vary during a single season and from one Saturn-year to another. But to fully understand what is happening on Saturn, we will need the other half of the picture: the amount of power being absorbed by the planet."

Scientists will be doing that as a next step by comparing the instrument's findings to data obtained by Cassini's imaging cameras and infrared mapping spectrometer instrument. The spectrometer, in particular, measures the amount of sunlight reflected by Saturn. Because scientists know the total amount of solar energy delivered to Saturn, they can derive the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet and discern how much heat the planet itself is emitting. These calculations help scientists tackle what the actual source of that warming might be and whether it changes.

Better understanding Saturn's internal heat flow "will significantly deepen our understanding of the weather, internal structure and evolution of Saturn and the other giant planets," Li said.
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Old 11-27-2010, 06:55 AM   #25
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NASA JPL:
Cassini Back to Normal, Ready for Enceladus

November 24, 2010

NASA's Cassini spacecraft resumed normal operations today, Nov. 24. All science instruments have been turned back on, the spacecraft is properly configured and Cassini is in good health. Mission managers expect to get a full stream of data during next week's flyby of the Saturnian moon Enceladus.

Cassini went into safe mode on Nov. 2, when one bit flipped in the onboard command and data subsystem computer. The bit flip prevented the computer from registering an important instruction, and the spacecraft, as programmed, went into the standby mode. Engineers have traced the steps taken by the computer during that time and have determined that all spacecraft responses were proper, but still do not know why the bit flipped.

The flyby on Nov. 30 will bring Cassini to within about 48 kilometers (30 miles) of the surface of Enceladus. At 61 degrees north latitude, this encounter and its twin three weeks later at the same altitude and latitude, are the closest Cassini will come to the northern hemisphere surface of Enceladus during the extended Solstice mission. (Cassini's closest-ever approach to the surface occurred in October 2008, when it dipped to an altitude of 25 kilometers, or 16 miles.)

During the closest part of the Nov. 30 flyby, Cassini's radio science subsystem will make gravity measurements. The results will be compared with those from an earlier flyby of the Enceladus south pole to understand the moon's interior structure better. Cassini's fields and particles instruments will sample the charged particle environment around Enceladus. Other instruments will capture images in visible light and other parts of the light spectrum after Cassini makes its closest approach.

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---------- Post added 27th Nov 2010 at 07:55 ---------- Previous post was 26th Nov 2010 at 16:37 ----------

NASA:
Thin Air - Cassini Finds Ethereal Atmosphere at Rhea

2010-11-26

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected a very tenuous atmosphere known as an exosphere, infused with oxygen and carbon dioxide around Saturn's icy moon Rhea. This is the first time a spacecraft has directly captured molecules of an oxygen atmosphere – albeit a very thin one -- at a world other than Earth.

The oxygen appears to arise when Saturn's magnetic field rotates over Rhea. Energetic particles trapped in the planet's magnetic field pepper the moon’s water-ice surface. They cause chemical reactions that decompose the surface and release oxygen. The source of the carbon dioxide is less certain.

Oxygen at Rhea's surface is estimated to be about 5 trillion times less dense than what we have at Earth. But the new results show that surface decomposition could contribute abundant molecules of oxygen, leading to surface densities roughly 100 times greater than the exospheres of either Earth's moon or Mercury. The formation of oxygen and carbon dioxide could possibly drive complex chemistry on the surfaces of many icy bodies in the universe.

"The new results suggest that active, complex chemistry involving oxygen may be quite common throughout the solar system and even our universe," said lead author Ben Teolis, a Cassini team scientist based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "Such chemistry could be a prerequisite for life. All evidence from Cassini indicates that Rhea is too cold and devoid of the liquid water necessary for life as we know it."

Releasing oxygen through surface irradiation could help generate conditions favorable for life at an icy body other than Rhea that has liquid water under the surface, Teolis said. If the oxygen and carbon dioxide from the surface could somehow get transported down to a sub-surface ocean, that would provide a much more hospitable environment for more complex compounds and life to form. Scientists are keen to investigate whether life on icy moons with an ocean is possible, though they have not yet detected it.

The tenuous atmosphere with oxygen and carbon dioxide makes Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon, unique in the Saturnian system. Titan has a thick nitrogen-methane atmosphere, but very little carbon dioxide and oxygen.

"Rhea is turning out to be much more interesting than we had imagined," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The Cassini finding highlights the rich diversity of Saturn’s moons and gives us clues on how they formed and evolved."

Scientists had suspected Rhea could have a thin atmosphere with oxygen and carbon dioxide, based on remote observations of Jupiter's icy moons by NASA's Galileo spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope. Other Cassini observations detected oxygen escaping from icy Saturn ring particles after ultraviolet bombardment. But Cassini was able to detect oxygen and carbon dioxide in the exosphere directly because of how close it flew to Rhea – 101 kilometers, or 63 miles – and its special suite of instruments.

In the new study, scientists combined data from Cassini's ion and neutral mass spectrometer and the Cassini plasma spectrometer during flybys on Nov. 26, 2005, Aug. 30, 2007, and March 2, 2010. The ion and neutral mass spectrometer "tasted" peak densities of oxygen of around 50 billion molecules per cubic meter (1 billion molecules per cubic foot). It detected peak densities of carbon dioxide of around 20 billion molecules per cubic meter (about 600 million molecules per cubic foot).

The plasma spectrometer saw clear signatures of flowing streams of positive and negative ions, with masses that corresponded to ions of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

"How exactly the carbon dioxide is released is still a puzzle," said co-author Geraint Jones, a Cassini team scientist based at University College London in the U.K. "But with Cassini's diverse suite of instruments observing Rhea from afar, as well as sniffing the gas surrounding it, we hope to solve the puzzle."

The carbon dioxide may be the result of “dry ice” trapped from the primordial solar nebula, as is the case with comets, or it may be due to similar irradiation processes operating on the organic molecules trapped in the water ice of Rhea. The carbon dioxide could also come from carbon-rich materials deposited by tiny meteors that bombarded Rhea's surface.

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Old 12-01-2010, 02:37 AM   #26
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NASA / NASA JPL:
Cassini Finds Warm Cracks on Enceladus

November 29, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. – New images and data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft give scientists a unique Saturn-lit view of active fissures through the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. They reveal a more complicated web of warm fractures than previously thought.

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Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have enabled scientists to make the highest-resolution heat intensity maps yet for the hottest part of a "tiger stripe" fissure on Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC/SWRI/SSIThis image shows a high-resolution heat intensity map of part of the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus, made from data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC/SWRI/SSI


The new images are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Scientists working jointly with Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer and its high-resolution imaging camera have constructed the highest-resolution heat intensity maps yet of the hottest part of a region of long fissures spraying water vapor and icy particles from Enceladus. These fissures have been nicknamed "tiger stripes." Additional high-resolution spectrometer maps of one end of the tiger stripes Alexandria Sulcus and Cairo Sulcus reveal never-before-seen warm fractures that branch off like split ends from the main tiger stripe trenches. They also show an intriguing warm spot isolated from other active surface fissures.

"The ends of the tiger stripes may be the places where the activity is just getting started, or is winding down, so the complex patterns of heat we see there may give us clues to the life cycle of tiger stripes," said John Spencer, a Cassini team scientist based at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

The images and maps come from the Aug. 13, 2010, Enceladus flyby, Cassini's last remote sensing flyby of the moon until 2015. The geometry of the many flybys between now and 2015 will not allow Cassini to do thermal scans like these, because the spacecraft will be too close to scan the surface and will not view the south pole. This Enceladus flyby, the 11th of Cassini's tour, also gave Cassini its last look at any part of the active south polar region in sunlight.

The highest-resolution spectrometer scan examined the hottest part of the entire tiger stripe system, part of the fracture called Damascus Sulcus. Scientists used the scan to measure fracture temperatures up to190 Kelvin (minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit). This temperature appears slightly higher than previously measured temperatures at Damascus, which were around 170 Kelvin (minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit).

Spencer said he isn't sure if this tiger stripe is just more active than it was the last time Cassini's spectrometer scanned it, in 2008, or if the hottest part of the tiger stripe is so narrow that previous scans averaged its temperature out over a larger area. In any case, the new scan had such good resolution, showing details as small as 800 meters (2,600 feet), that scientists could see for the first time warm material flanking the central trench of Damascus, cooling off quickly away from the trench. The Damascus thermal scan also shows large variations in heat output within a few kilometers along the length of the fracture. This unprecedented resolution will help scientists understand how the tiger stripes deliver heat to the surface of Enceladus.

Cassini acquired the thermal map of Damascus simultaneously with a visible-light image where the tiger stripe is lit by sunlight reflecting off Saturn. The visible-light and thermal data were merged to help scientists understand the relationships between physical heat processes and surface geology.

"Our high-resolution images show that this section of Damascus Sulcus is among the most structurally complex and tectonically dynamic of the tiger stripes," said imaging science team associate Paul Helfenstein of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Some details in the appearance of the landforms, such as a peculiar pattern of curving striations along the flanks of Damascus, had not previously been noticed in ordinary sunlit images.

The day after the Enceladus flyby, Cassini swooped by the icy moon Tethys, collecting images that helped fill in gaps in the Tethys global map. Cassini's new views of the heavily cratered moon will help scientists understand how tectonic forces, impact cratering, and perhaps even ancient resurfacing events have shaped the moon's appearance.
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:27 AM   #27
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NASA JPL:
Cassini Returns Images of Bright Jets at Enceladus

December 01, 2010

NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully dipped near the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Nov. 30.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully dipped near the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Nov. 30. Though Cassini's closest approach took it to within about 48 kilometers (30 miles) of the moon's northern hemisphere, the spacecraft also captured shadowy images of the tortured south polar terrain and the brilliant jets that spray out from it.

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NASA's Cassini spacecraft obtained this raw image of the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Nov. 30, 2010. The spacecraft was about 89,000 kilometers (55,000 miles) away from the moon's surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI


Many of the raw images feature darkened terrain because winter has descended upon the southern hemisphere of Enceladus. But sunlight behind the moon backlights the jets of water vapor and icy particles. In some images, the jets line up in rows, forming curtains of spray.

The new raw images can be seen at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/ .

The Enceladus flyby was the 12th of Cassini's mission, with the spacecraft swooping down around 61 degrees north latitude. This encounter and its twin three weeks later at the same altitude and latitude, are the closest Cassini will come to the northern hemisphere surface of Enceladus during the extended Solstice mission. (Cassini's closest-ever approach to Enceladus occurred in October 2008, when the spacecraft dipped to an altitude of 25 kilometers, or 16 miles.)

Among the observations Cassini made during this Enceladus flyby, the radio science subsystem collected gravity measurements to understand the moon's interior structure, and the fields and particles instruments sampled the charged particle environment around the moon.

About two days before the Enceladus flyby, Cassini also passed the sponge-like moon Hyperion, beaming back intriguing images of the craters on its surface. The flyby, at 72,000 kilometers (45,000 miles) in altitude, was one of the closest approaches to Hyperion that Cassini has made.

Scientists are still working to analyze the data and images collected during the flybys.
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Old 12-15-2010, 04:02 AM   #28
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NASA / NASA JPL:
Cassini Spots Potential Ice Volcano on Saturn Moon

December 14, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn's moon Titan that are similar in shape to those on Earth that spew molten rock.

Topography and surface composition data have enabled scientists to make the best case yet in the outer solar system for an Earth-like volcano landform that erupts in ice. The results were presented today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

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This image is based on data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft and shows a flyover of an area of Saturn's moon Titan known as Sotra Facula. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/University of ArizonaCold Case: Possible Ice Volcano on Titan


"When we look at our new 3-D map of Sotra Facula on Titan, we are struck by its resemblance to volcanoes like Mt. Etna in Italy, Laki in Iceland and even some small volcanic cones and flows near my hometown of Flagstaff," said Randolph Kirk, who led the 3-D mapping work, and is a Cassini radar team member and geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Scientists have been debating for years whether ice volcanoes, also called cryovolcanoes, exist on ice-rich moons, and if they do, what their characteristics are. The working definition assumes some kind of subterranean geological activity warms the cold environment enough to melt part of the satellite's interior and sends slushy ice or other materials through an opening in the surface. Volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and Earth spew silicate lava.

Some cryovolcanoes bear little resemblance to terrestrial volcanoes, such as the tiger stripes at Saturn's moon Enceladus, where long fissures spray jets of water and icy particles that leave little trace on the surface. At other sites, eruption of denser materials might build up volcanic peaks or finger-like flows. But when such flows were spotted on Titan in the past, theories explained them as non-volcanic processes, such as rivers depositing sediment. At Sotra, however, cryovolcanism is the best explanation for two peaks more than 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) high with deep volcanic craters and finger-like flows.
"This is the very best evidence, by far, for volcanic topography anywhere documented on an icy satellite," said Jeffrey Kargel, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "It's possible the mountains are tectonic in origin, but the interpretation of cryovolcano is a much simpler, more consistent explanation."

Kirk and colleagues analyzed new Cassini radar images. His USGS group created the topographic map and 3-D flyover images of Sotra Facula. Data from Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer revealed the lobed flows had a composition different from the surrounding surface. Scientists have no evidence of current activity at Sotra, but they plan to monitor the area.

"Cryovolcanoes help explain the geological forces sculpting some of these exotic places in our solar system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "At Titan, for instance, they explain how methane can be continually replenished in the atmosphere when the sun is constantly breaking that molecule down."

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NASA / NASA JPL:
Hot Plasma Explosions Inflate Saturn's Magnetic Field

December 14, 2010

A new analysis based on data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft finds a causal link between mysterious, periodic signals from Saturn's magnetic field and explosions of hot ionized gas, known as plasma, around the planet.

Scientists have found that enormous clouds of plasma periodically bloom around Saturn and move around the planet like an unbalanced load of laundry on spin cycle. The movement of this hot plasma produces a repeating signature "thump" in measurements of Saturn's rotating magnetic environment and helps to illustrate why scientists have had such a difficult time measuring the length of a day on Saturn.

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This is an artist's concept of the Saturnian plasma sheet based on data from Cassini magnetospheric imaging instrument. Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPLThis is an artist's concept of the Saturnian plasma sheet based on data from Cassini magnetospheric imaging instrument. It shows Saturn's embedded "ring current," an invisible ring of energetic ions trapped in the planet's magnetic field.


"This is a breakthrough that may point us to the origin of the mysteriously changing periodicities that cloud the true rotation period of Saturn," said Pontus Brandt, the lead author on the paper and a Cassini team scientist based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "The big question now is why these explosions occur periodically."
The data show how plasma injections, electrical currents and Saturn's magnetic field -- phenomena that are invisible to the human eye -- are partners in an intricate choreography. Periodic plasma explosions form islands of pressure that rotate around Saturn. The islands of pressure "inflate" the magnetic field.

A new animation showing the linked behavior is available at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .

The visualization shows how invisible hot plasma in Saturn's magnetosphere – the magnetic bubble around the planet -- explodes and distorts magnetic field lines in response to the pressure. Saturn's magnetosphere is not a perfect bubble because it is blown back by the force of the solar wind, which contains charged particles streaming off the sun.

The force of the solar wind stretches the magnetic field of the side of Saturn facing away from the sun into a so-called magnetotail. The collapse of the magnetotail appears to kick off a process that causes the hot plasma bursts, which in turn inflate the magnetic field in the inner magnetosphere.

Scientists are still investigating what causes Saturn's magnetotail to collapse, but there are strong indications that cold, dense plasma originally from Saturn's moon Enceladus rotates with Saturn. Centrifugal forces stretch the magnetic field until part of the tail snaps back.

The snapping back heats plasma around Saturn and the heated plasma becomes trapped in the magnetic field. It rotates around the planet in islands at the speed of about 100 kilometers per second (200,000 mph). In the same way that high and low pressure systems on Earth cause winds, the high pressures of space cause electrical currents. Currents cause magnetic field distortions.

A radio signal known as Saturn Kilometric Radiation, which scientists have used to estimate the length of a day on Saturn, is intimately linked to the behavior of Saturn's magnetic field. Because Saturn has no surface or fixed point to clock its rotation rate, scientists inferred the rotation rate from timing the peaks in this type of radio emission, which is assumed to surge with each rotation of a planet. This method has worked for Jupiter, but the Saturn signals have varied. Measurements from the early 1980s taken by NASA's Voyager spacecraft, data obtained in 2000 by the ESA/NASA Ulysses mission, and Cassini data from about 2003 to the present differ by a small, but significant degree. As a result, scientists are not sure how long a Saturn day is.

"What's important about this new work is that scientists are beginning to describe the global, causal relationships between some of the complex, invisible forces that shape the Saturn environment," said Marcia Burton, the Cassini fields and particles investigation scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The new results still don't give us the length of a Saturn day, but they do give us important clues to begin figuring it out. The Saturn day length, or Saturn's rotation rate, is important for determining fundamental properties of Saturn, like the structure of its interior and the speed of its winds."

Plasma is invisible to the human eye. But the ion and neutral camera on Cassini's magnetospheric imaging instrument provides a three-dimensional view by detecting energetic neutral atoms emitted from the plasma clouds around Saturn. Energetic neutral atoms form when cold, neutral gas collides with electrically-charged particles in a cloud of plasma. The resulting particles are neutrally charged, so they are able to escape magnetic fields and zoom off into space. The emission of these particles often occurs in the magnetic fields surrounding planets.

By stringing together images obtained every half hour, scientists produced movies of plasma as it drifted around the planet. Scientists used these images to reconstruct the 3-D pressure produced by the plasma clouds, and supplemented those results with plasma pressures derived from the Cassini plasma spectrometer. Once scientists understood the pressure and its evolution, they could calculate the associated magnetic field perturbations along the Cassini flight path. The calculated field perturbation matched the observed magnetic field "thumps" perfectly, confirming the source of the field oscillations.

"We all know that changing rotation periods have been observed at pulsars, millions of light years from our solar system, and now we find that a similar phenomenon is observed right here at Saturn," said Tom Krimigis, principal investigator of the magnetospheric imaging instrument, also based at the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Academy of Athens, Greece. "With instruments right at the spot where it's happening, we can tell that plasma flows and complex current systems can mask the real rotation period of the central body. That's how observations in our solar system help us understand what is seen in distant astrophysical objects."

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Old 12-20-2010, 11:59 PM   #29
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NASA / NASA JPL:
Cassini Takes Close-Up of Enceladus Northern Hemisphere

December 20, 2010

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will be making its close flyby of the northern hemisphere of Saturn's moon Enceladus today, Monday, Dec. 20. The closest approach will take place at 5:08 PM PST (8:08 EST) on Dec. 20, or 1:08 AM UTC on Dec. 21. The spacecraft will zip by at an altitude of about 48 kilometers (30 miles) above the icy moon's surface.

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This artist's concept shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft dipping close to the northern hemisphere of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Cassini's fields and particles instruments will get priority during this flyby. They will be trying to characterize the particles that may form a tenuous atmosphere around Enceladus and see if they may be similar to the faint oxygen- and carbon-dioxide atmosphere detected recently around Rhea, another Saturnian moon. The instruments will be particularly interested in the Enceladus environment away from the jets emanating from the south polar region. A goal of the observations will be to try to measure the rate of dust coming off the moon from the bombardment of micrometeoroids alone. These measurements will help scientists understand the rate of micrometeoroid bombardment in the Saturn system, which will help them get at the age of Saturn's main rings.

The composite infrared spectrometer and imaging cameras will also be active, looking for additional hot spots on the moon and taking pictures of some regions at a higher resolution than is currently available.

This is the 13th flyby of Enceladus in Cassini's mission and takes a similar path to the last Enceladus flyby.

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Old 12-21-2010, 09:54 PM   #30
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NASA / NASA JPL:
Cassini Marks Holidays With Dramatic Views of Rhea

December 20, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. -- Newly released for the holidays, images of Saturn's second largest moon Rhea obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft show dramatic views of fractures cutting through craters on the moon's surface, revealing a history of tectonic rumbling. The images are among the highest-resolution views ever obtained of Rhea.

The images, captured on flybys on Nov. 21, 2009 and March 2, 2010, can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini, http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://ciclops.org.

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Hemispheric color differences on Saturn's moon Rhea are apparent in this false-color view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
Wispy fractures cut through cratered terrain on Saturn's moon Rhea in this high resolution, 3-D image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
Icy fractures on Saturn's moon Rhea reflect sunlight brightly in this high-resolution mosaic created from images captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its March 2, 2010, flyby. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
This global digital map of Saturn's moon Rhea was created using data obtained by NASA's Cassini and Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI


"These recent, high-resolution Cassini images help us put Saturn's moon in the context of the moons' geological family tree," said Paul Helfenstein, Cassini imaging team associate, based at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "Since NASA's Voyager mission visited Saturn, scientists have thought of Rhea and Dione as close cousins, with some differences in size and density. The new images show us they're more like fraternal twins, where the resemblance is more than skin deep. This probably comes from their nearness to each other in orbit."

Cassini scientists designed the March 2010 and November 2009 encounters in part to search for a ring thought to encircle the moon. During the March flyby, Cassini made its closest- approach to Rhea's surface so far, swooping within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the moon. Based on these observations, however, scientists have since discounted the possibility that Rhea might currently have a faint ring above its equator.

These flybys nonetheless yielded unique views of other features on the moon, including ones that are among the best ever obtained of the side of Rhea that always faces away from Saturn. Other views show a web of bright, "wispy" fractures resembling some that were first spotted on another part of Rhea by the two Voyager spacecraft in 1980 and 1981.

At that time, scientists thought the wispy markings on the trailing hemispheres – the sides of moons that face backward in the orbit around a planet – of Rhea and the neighboring moon Dione were possible cryovolcanic deposits, or the residue of icy material erupting. The low resolution of Voyager images prevented a closer inspection of these regions. Since July 2004, Cassini's imaging cameras have captured pictures the trailing hemispheres of both satellites several times at much higher resolution. The images have shown that the wispy markings are actually exposures of bright ice along the steep walls of long scarps, or lines of cliffs, that indicate tectonic activity produced the features rather than cryovolcanism.

Data collected by Cassini's imaging cameras in November 2009 showed the trailing hemisphere at unprecedented resolution. Scientists combined images taken about one hour apart to create a 3-D image of this terrain, revealing a set of closely spaced troughs that sometimes look linear and sometimes look sinuous. The 3-D image also shows uplifted blocks interspersed through the terrain that cut through older, densely cratered plains. While the densely cratered plains imply that Rhea has not experienced much internal activity since its early history that would have repaved the moon, these imaging data suggest that some regions have ruptured in response to tectonic stress more recently. Troughs and other fault topography cut through the two largest craters in the scene, which are not as scarred with smaller craters, indicating that these craters are comparatively young. In some places, material has moved downslope along the scarps and accumulated on the flatter floors.

A mosaic of the March flyby images shows bright, icy fractures cutting across the surface of the moon, sometimes at right angles to each other. A false-color view of the entire disk of the moon's Saturn-facing side reveals a slightly bluer area, likely related to different surface compositions or to different sizes and fine-scale textures of the grains making up the moon's icy soil.

The new images have also helped to enhance maps of Rhea, including the first cartographic atlas of features on the moon complete with names approved by the International Astronomical Union. Thanks to the recent mission extension, Cassini will continue to chart the terrain of this and other Saturnian moons with ever-improving resolution, especially for terrain at high northern latitudes, until 2017.

"The 11th of January 2011 will be especially exciting, when Cassini flies just 76 kilometers [47 miles] above the surface of Rhea," said Thomas Roatsch, a Cassini imaging team scientist based at the German Aerospace Center Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin. "These will be by far the best images we've ever had of Rhea's surface – details down to just a few meters will become recognizable."

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