Cassini's Cameras Provide First Closeup Look At Saturn's Icy Moon Enceladus
MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE CASSINI IMAGING CENTRAL LABORATORY FOR OPERATIONS SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE, BOULDER, COLO. http://www.ciclops.org
Preston Dyches (720) 974-5823 CICLOPS/Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.
IMAGE ADVISORY February 18, 2005
CASSINI'S CAMERAS PROVIDE FIRST CLOSEUP LOOK AT SATURN'S ICY MOON ENCELADUS
Cassini's first very close flyby of Saturn's small, icy moon Enceladus has revealed a fascinating, tortured world of ice. The spacecraft swept within 1,180 kilometers (730 miles) of the moon's wrinkled surface on Wednesday, providing the first-ever extremely high resolution images of the world with the brightest, most reflective surface in the Solar System.
Enceladus is a target of particular interest for the Cassini mission. Since the Voyager spacecraft flew past Enceladus in 1980 and 1981, planetary scientists have been intrigued by the moon's wrinkled terrain and smooth plains, some of which appeared to be relatively free of impact craters. Smooth, crater-free surfaces on moons and planets indicate geologically young ages, while wrinkles may indicate tectonic activity or volcanism.
Cassini has now viewed these terrains at almost 10 times better resolution than Voyager. Interestingly, the icy surface of Enceladus appears to have similarities to both Europa and Ganymede - two prominent icy satellites of Jupiter - and topographic relief about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile). Both Europa and Ganymede are thought to have subsurface water layers or "oceans," so the similarities to Enceladus are intriguing.
The images released today include a high resolution mosaic, showing complex systems of fractures and resurfaced terrain.
Another high resolution view reveals details of a relatively fresh-looking crevasse or fissure system with individual fractures that are over a kilometer wide. Among the most intriguing features in this view are a series of small, dark spots, which in many places seem to be aligned in chains parallel to narrow fractures.
One of the new images is a false-color view that shows that some of the linear features on Enceladus have a slightly different color from their surroundings. Different colors of ice may be caused by different compositions or different ice crystal sizes - either of which can indicate different formation mechanisms or different ages.
An additional early highlight from the flyby is a high resolution stereo anaglyph, or "3-D" view of Enceladus. Stereo views such as this are helpful in interpreting the moon's complex topography.
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 Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.