19 December 2005

Time for Saturn

Time Magazine currently showcases their editors' picks for the top ten images of the year shown in their Pictures of the Week feature. Viewers can vote on this page for their favorite choice. Choosing the obvious winner is rather academic, don't you think? ;-)

With the year drawing to a close, I can't help but be reminded of all the marvelous imagery (and science) returned by Cassini in 2005. As such I felt compelled to offer this little photo retrospective.

Here are my nominations for Cassini's Best of 2005. Clicking on each image will take you to the NASA Planetary Photojournal where you can view larger resolution versions and the respective image captions in their entirety. (All images & text captions credited to NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.) In chronological order:





Mimas drifts along in its orbit against the azure backdrop of Saturn's northern latitudes in this true color view. The long, dark lines on the atmosphere are shadows cast by the planet's rings.






While cruising around Saturn in early October 2004, Cassini captured a series of images that have been composed into the largest, most detailed, global natural color view of Saturn and its rings ever made.

This grand mosaic consists of 126 images acquired in a tile-like fashion, covering one end of Saturn's rings to the other and the entire planet in between. The images were taken over the course of two hours on Oct. 6, 2004, while Cassini was approximately 6.3 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) from Saturn. Since the view seen by Cassini during this time changed very little, no re-projection or alteration of any of the images was necessary.






As it swooped past the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus on July 14, 2005, Cassini acquired high resolution views of this puzzling ice world. From afar, Enceladus exhibits a bizarre mixture of softened craters and complex, fractured terrains.





This excellent grouping of three moons -- Dione, Tethys and Pandora -- near the rings provides a sampling of the diversity of worlds that exists in Saturn's realm.

A 330-kilometer-wide (205 mile) impact basin can be seen near the bottom right on Dione (at left). Ithaca Chasma and the region imaged during the Cassini spacecraft's Sept. 24, 2005, flyby can be seen on Tethys (middle). Little Pandora makes a good showing here as well, displaying a hint of surface detail.

Tethys is on the far side of the rings in this view; Dione and Pandora are much nearer to the Cassini spacecraft.







The dark Cassini Division, within Saturn's rings, contains a great deal of structure, as seen in this color image. The sharp inner boundary of the division (left of center) is the outer edge of the massive B ring and is maintained by the gravitational influence of the moon Mimas.

Spectroscopic observations by Cassini indicate that the Cassini Division, similar to the C ring, contains more contaminated ice than do the B and A rings on either side.

This view is centered on a region approximately 118,500 kilometers (73,600 miles) from Saturn's center. (Saturn is 120,500-kilometers-wide (74,900 miles) at its equator.) From left to right, the image spans approximately 11,000 kilometers (6,800 miles) across the ringplane.







Dione's southern polar region (shown here) contains fractures whose softened appearance suggests that they have different ages than the bright braided fractures seen in the image to the north. This region is also notably brighter than the near equatorial terrain at the top of the image.

At the center, several of the bright, radial streaks mark a feature named Cassandra, which may be a rayed crater or a tectonic feature.

This view of Dione (1,118 kilometers, or 695 miles across) captures high southern latitudes on the moon's trailing hemisphere.







Speeding toward pale, icy Dione, Cassini's view is enriched by the tranquil gold and blue hues of Saturn in the distance. The horizontal stripes near the bottom of the image are Saturn's rings. The spacecraft was nearly in the plane of the rings when the images were taken, thinning them by perspective and masking their awesome scale. The thin, curving shadows of the C ring and part of the B ring adorn the northern latitudes visible here, a reminder of the rings' grandeur.


Truly amazing work -- and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I greatly anticipate seeing what marvels the Cassini team will return in 2006 and beyond.


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2 Comments:

Anonymous beepbeepitsme said...

Someone is having way too much fun :)

10:25 PM CST  
Blogger Wolverine said...

You know it. ;)

11:48 PM CST  

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