New Images of Saturn Moons From Cassini Double Flyby
New images of the fractured terrain of Saturn's little-visited moon Dione have been snapped by NASA's Cassini spacecraft as the probe performed a double flyby of Dione as well as Titan.
The Titan flyby took place April 5, and the Dione flyby occurred April 7 in the UTC time zone (April 6 Pacific time). The flybys were made without any maneuver in between the moons thanks to a fortuitous alignment of the two bodies.
During the Titan pass, an unexpected autonomous reset occurred and Cassini obtained fewer images of Titan than expected. But the cameras were reset before reaching the icy moon Dione, which was the primary target on this double flyby. Cassini has visited Dione only once before, in October 2005.
Cassini swooped down to within about 300 miles (500 kilometers) of Dione's surface. The new raw images of Dione show the moon's fractured terrain and craters big and small.
Scientists are poring over data from Dione to discern whether the moon could be a source of charged particles to the environment around Saturn and material to one of its rings. They are also trying to understand the history of dark material found on Dione.
Cassini had made three previous double flybys and another two are planned in the years ahead. The mission is nearing the end of its first extension, known as the Equinox Mission. It will begin its second mission extension, known as the Solstice Mission, in October 2010. One of the last planned activities of Cassini at the end of the Solstice Mission is to fly into an orbit between Saturn and its rings in an effort to determine how much mass is in the rings, which will help scientists determine the rings' age.
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