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Cassini Captures Stunning Image of Saturn's Moons Pandora, Mimas

Dec 27, 2016 10:12 PM EST
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Watch 20-year Cassini mission end as Nasa probe plunges into Saturn

NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission is exploring other lesser-explored bodies in the Saturn region including the ringed planet's moons. Recently, the spacecraft managed to capture the beauty of Saturn's moon Pandora.

The agency released the high-resolution image taken by Cassini that shows the unobstructed surface of Pandora. The said image is one of the most detailed images taken of the Saturn's moon.

Pandora is about 52 miles (84 kilometers) across. The moon orbits the planet near the F-ring. The current ring-grazing orbit of the spacecraft, designed to plunge into the planet's ring to give an unprecedented view of the planet's mysterious rings, allowed the spacecraft to explore the planet's moonlets.

The photograph was taken last Dec. 18 during the spacecraft's closest flyby of Saturn's moon Pandora. Cassini managed to get close to Pandora on its third ring-grazing orbit.

To produce a high-resolution image, Cassini used green light with its narrow-angle camera from about 25,200 miles (40,500 kilometers) away from the said moon. With the given distance, the spacecraft produced an image with 787 feet (24- meters) per pixel resolution size.

Aside from Pandora, Cassini also managed to capture Saturn's moon Mimas crashing into the planet's rings. This was, however, only an optical illusion produced due to the spacecraft's positioning when the image was taken. During this time, the moon Mimas was actually about 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) from Saturn's rings.

"There is a strong connection between the icy moon and Saturn's rings, though," a NASA official said in a statement. "Gravity links them together and shapes the way they both move," the official added.

Although an optical illusion, Mimas, which is about 246 miles (396 kilometers) and it's gravitational pull indeed created a disturbance that affected Saturn's rings. Waves were visible. The gravitational pull of Mimas also created the division between Saturn's A and B rings.

The Cassini mission is a collaboration between NASA, ESA, and the Italian Space Agency. The spacecraft is currently performing a series of ring-grazing orbits before its final "death dive" into Saturn.


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