CASSINI SENDS BEST-EVER VIEWS OF SATURN MOON PANDORA
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun sending to Earth the highest-resolution views ever taken of Saturn's moon Pandora. The spacecraft captured the images during its closest-ever flyby of Pandora on Dec. 18, during the third of its grazing passes by the outer edges of Saturn's main rings.
During the encounter, Cassini passed about 13,700 miles (22,040 kilometers) from Pandora, which is about twice as close as the spacecraft's previous record. The closest images from the encounter reveal features at a resolution about twice that of the previous best.
In addition to the ultra-close views of Pandora, Cassini also captured some of its closest views of the outer portions of Saturn's main rings. The images show the side of the rings that is backlit, where sunlight filters through but does not shine on it directly.
Some of the images from the encounter have already been received from the spacecraft, and additional images may still be transmitted in later downlinks.
The unprocessed, or "raw," images can be viewed on the web at:
The mission's ring-grazing orbits will continue every seven days until late April of 2017, when Cassini begins its Grand Finale, during which the spacecraft will plunge through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings 22 times. The mission will conclude on Sept. 15, with a final dive into Saturn. During that dive, Cassini will transmit data about the atmosphere's composition until its signal is lost.
Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving in orbit in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons. Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
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.