Cassini's image shows tiny Earth between Saturn's rings

Apr 25, 2017, 12:54
Cassini's image shows tiny Earth between Saturn's rings

In the photograph, Earth is just a point of light between Saturn's icy rings.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft soared past Saturn's biggest moon for the last time on Saturday, tapping its gravity to slingshot into a series of exploratory dives inside the planet's rings, followed by a final fatal plunge into the gas giant. That maneuver, NASA told USA Today will be the probe's "final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across the moon's northern polar region, and the last chance to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and make detailed images of the surface". The Cassini spacecraft orbits Saturn, studying the planet and its moons.

This unprocessed image of Saturn's moon Titan was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its final close flyby of the hazy, planet-sized moon on April 21, 2017. The even smaller point of light is visible to the left of the Earth in the image.

"Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come", said mission project scientist Linda Spilker, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Cassini received a large increase in velocity of about precisely 860.5 metres per second with respect to Saturn from the close encounter with Titan. Through its travels in the ring gap, scientists hope that Cassini will help differentiate between the weight of Saturn and the weight of its rings.

The canyon is said to be up to 60 miles wide and runs almost three-fourths of the way around Saturn's icy moon. The maximum depth of the rift is about 2.4 miles, according to a statement that accompanied the image. Space.com noted that the canyon, known as Ithaca Chasma, is visible in an image from Cassini, teetering between the day side and night side of the moon.

Though the space agency released the photo today, Cassini actually captured it on January 30, 2017, when the probe was about 221,000 miles (356,000 km) from Tethys. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

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