MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE CASSINI IMAGING CENTRAL LABORATORY FOR OPERATIONS (CICLOPS) SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE, BOULDER, COLORADO http://ciclops.org
Steve Mullins (720)974-5823 CICLOPS/Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.
Jia-Rui C. Cook (818)354-0850 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Image Advisory: December 23, 2013
SATURN AND TWO OF ITS MOONS SPRUCE UP THE HOLIDAYS
Saturn and two of its most fascinating moons, Titan and Enceladus, are Cassini's gifts to you this holiday season. Eagerly awaiting your eyes, all three bodies are dressed and dazzling in this special package assembled by the Cassini imaging team.
Two different views of Enceladus are included in our package and highlight the many fissures, fractures and ridges that decorate the icy moon's surface. Enceladus is a white, glittering snowball of a moon, now famous for the nearly hundred geysers that are spread across its south polar region and spout tiny icy particles into space. Most of these particles fall back to the surface as snow. Some small fraction escapes the gravity of Enceladus and makes its way into orbit around Saturn, forming the planet's extensive and diffuse E ring. Because these geysers are believed to be directly connected to a subsurface, salty, organic-rich, liquid water reservoir, Enceladus is home to one of the most accessible extraterrestrial habitable zones in the solar system.
Packaged along with Saturn and Enceladus is a group of natural color images of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, highighting two of Titan's most outstanding features. Peering through Titan's hazy orange atmosphere, the Cassini narrow-angle camera spots dark, splotchy features in the polar regions of the moon. These features are the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons for which the moon is renowned. Titan is the only other place in the solar system that we know has stable liquids on its surface, though in Titan's case, the liquids are ethane and methane rather than water. At Titan's south pole, a swirling high altitude vortex stands out distinctly against the darkness of the moon's unilluminated atmosphere. Titan's hazy atmosphere and surface environment are believed to be similar in certain respects to the early atmosphere of Earth, making Titan a valuable resource for further study. Combined, all of Titan's stunning features make a perfect gift of beauty for everyone this holiday season.
While gifts wrapped in ornate packaging stir up excitement and wonder, nothing grabs our attention quite like the majestic tree that they surround, and no holiday package would be complete without a few pictures of the celestial wonder that towers over these impressive moons. The north and south poles of Saturn itself are highlighted this season and appear drastically different from each other in the natural color views released today. The globe of Saturn resembles a Christmas tree ornament in a wide-angle image overlooking its north pole, bringing into view the hexagonal jet stream and rapidly spinning polar vortex that reside there. And the planet's south pole, now in winter, looking very different than the springtime north, displays brilliant blue hues, reminiscent of a frosty winter wonderland.
'During this, our tenth holiday season at Saturn', said Carolyn Porco, leader for the imaging team on Cassini, 'we hope that these images from Cassini remind everyone the world over of the magnitude of our accomplishments and the significance of our discoveries in exploring such a remote and alien planetary system. Happy Holidays... from all of us at Saturn to all of you'.
Launched in 1997, Cassini has explored the Saturn system for more than nine years. NASA plans to continue the mission through 2017, with the anticipation of more ground-breaking science and imagery of Saturn, its rings and moons to come.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team consists of scientists from the U.S., England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team leader (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.