This spectacular view is a mosaic of four high resolution images taken by the Cassini narrow angle camera on February 16, 2005 during its close flyby of Enceladus.
The view is about 300 kilometers (200 miles) across and shows the myriad of faults, fractures, folds, troughs and craters that make this Saturnian satellite especially intriguing to planetary scientists. More than 20 years ago, Voyager gave hints of a surface cut by tectonic features, and subsequent images of other icy satellites have revealed many different ways that stresses have acted on icy satellite crusts.
The new close-up images of Enceladus, which has a diameter of 504 kilometers (313 miles), show some familiar-looking features and others that are brand new, at spatial scales never before seen on Enceladus. The work required to unravel their origins, their formation sequence, and the implications for the evolution of icy solar system bodies is just beginning.
Voyager images of Enceladus, which were obtained at much poorer spatial resolution, showed terrains like those seen here. They were called "smooth plains" because they appeared to exhibit little topographic relief. However, Cassini has now viewed these terrains at almost 10 times better resolution. The new images reveal very complex systems of fractures, resurfaced terrain and in some cases, topographic relief greater than several hundred meters.
The topographic relief in these pictures is only about one kilometer, which is quite low for a small, low gravity satellite. However, this is consistent with other evidence that points to interior melting and resurfacing in Enceladus' history.
Many styles of fracturing are evident in this mosaic. Extending downward from the top center of the mosaic for hundreds of kilometers is a broad belt of complex, interwoven fractures. A huge 5 kilometer (3 mile)-wide rift dissects this belt and extends into several older-looking, distinct regions or "cells" of terrains that themselves exhibit distinct fracture patterns.
Because Cassini flew rapidly past Enceladus, the right-side images were taken from a slightly different perspective than the left.
The mosaic covers longitudes from about 254W to 296W and latitudes from 60S to the equator.
The images were taken in visible light on February 17, 2005, from distances ranging from of 26,140 to 17,434 kilometers (16,243 to 10,833 miles) from Enceladus and at Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angles ranging from 27 to 29 degrees. Pixel scale in the left-side image is 150 meters (492 feet) per pixel; in the right-side image, scale is 105 meters (344 feet) per pixel. The image has been contrast-enhanced to aid visibility.
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 Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. 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.