These are the Last Close-up Images of the Moon Rhea from Cassini

by Nancy Atkinson on March 12, 2013

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Cassini looks over the heavily cratered surface of Rhea during the spacecraft's flyby of the moon on March 10, 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.

Cassini looks over the heavily cratered surface of Rhea during the spacecraft’s flyby of the moon on March 10, 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.

“Take a good, long, luxurious look at these sights from another world,” said Cassini Imaging Team Leader Carolyn Porco, “as they will be the last close-ups you’ll ever see of this particular moon.”

On Saturday, March 9, 2013 Cassini made the last close flyby of Rhea during its mission, coming within 620 miles (997km) of the surface of the moon. Cassini’s mission is slated to end in 2017 with a controlled fall into Saturn’s atmosphere. Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 and is in its second mission extension.

“Our mission at Saturn has been ongoing for nearly 9 years and is slated to continue for another 4,” Porco said in an email message. “Targeted flybys of the moons Dione, in June and August of 2015, and Enceladus, in October and December of 2015, are all that remains on the docket for detailed exploration of Saturn’s medium-sized moons.”

See more below:

This raw, unprocessed image of Rhea was taken on March 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This raw, unprocessed image of Rhea was taken on March 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Besides these great final shots, NASA said the primary purpose of this last close flyby of Rhea was to probe the internal structure of the moon by measuring the gravitational pull of Rhea against the spacecraft’s steady radio link to NASA’s Deep Space Network here on Earth. The results will help scientists understand whether the moon is homogeneous all the way through or whether it has differentiated into the layers of core, mantle and crust.

In addition, Cassini’s imaging cameras will take ultraviolet, infrared and visible-light data from Rhea’s surface. The cosmic dust analyzer will try to detect any dusty debris flying off the surface from tiny meteoroid bombardments to further scientists’ understanding of the rate at which “foreign” objects are raining into the Saturn system.

“We’re nearing the end of this historic expedition,” Porco said. “Let’s enjoy the finale while we can.”

This raw, unprocessed image of Rhea was taken on March 10, 2013 and received on Earth March 10, 2013. The camera was pointing toward Rhea at approximately 280,317 kilometers away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and CL2 filters. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

This raw, unprocessed image of Rhea was taken on March 10, 2013 and received on Earth March 10, 2013. The camera was pointing toward Rhea at approximately 280,317 kilometers away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and CL2 filters. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

See more of the raw images from the flyby at the CICLOPS website.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Dampe March 12, 2013 at 7:26 AM

Seen one moon, seen them all… :D nah, these are pretty awesome.

George Nereida March 15, 2013 at 6:00 AM

No, every moon is different. Just as there are no two planets alike. Each one has its own exciting story to tell. God is an awesome GOD. All of this Universe, out of chaos? I doubt it.

Andrew Peart March 12, 2013 at 8:28 AM

“they will be the last close-ups you’ll ever see of this particular moon.” Where’s the moon going? Is it about to disappear? Why are these the last? There’s never going to be another mission? That’s a strange statement to make, unless they know something we don’t.

Kevin Frushour March 12, 2013 at 10:32 AM

We’re probably going to be dead by the next mission, sadly. Aging is a bitch.

gopher652003 March 12, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Given that the next mission to Saturn isn’t scheduled to arrive until at *least* 2040 (more likely 2050), these are the last close-up images of this moon many of those reading the press release will ever see.

Olaf2 March 12, 2013 at 8:32 PM

The US and NASA is not the only country you know.
Many different countries and organisations might decide to launch a probe.

gopher652003 March 13, 2013 at 1:30 PM

You may find this hard to believe, but I was thinking of proposed ESA missions when speculating on that timeline:). NASA has nothing even that firm planned. They’ve just given up on the everything past Jupiter.

shootist MP March 12, 2013 at 3:35 PM

You think very strange thoughts.

George Nereida March 15, 2013 at 5:53 AM

Dude, give us a break! How about you geniuses, showing a little common-sense? You should know tha he is referring to the Cassini spacecraft…it is not planned to visit these moons again during its mission.Dam! use your frrrkikking brains.

Yepi Friv March 12, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Very detail pictures. I’ll wait to see something special from you – Porco

Aqua4U March 12, 2013 at 4:06 PM

The Cassini mission has been a spectacular success in so many ways. These latest images proves the point… and the ‘fat lady’ isn’t done singing! HO!

Espartaco Rondon Loaiza March 12, 2013 at 7:58 PM

Cool and awesome pictures.I love ‘em.

Prism2Spectrum March 14, 2013 at 3:12 PM

Reflecting on the breathtaking vistas, spectacular panoramas, and surreal perspectives, that that robotic alien, studying the Saturn System, has returned (in treasure flow of data, and unworldly picture-stream of beauty), you might almost think an artist planned the times and places of command, charted the routes and angles of frame. Compliments to the team that has filled, not only the computer banks of a Science hall, but interior space of a gallery’s walls (with masterfully wrought pictures). And served a role to lift the human spirit above a trouble world, with majesty of the heavens.

The elegant Ringed World will never look the same!

Sad day when a metallic vapor trail flashes in Saturn’s mammoth sky (perhaps to a roll of thunder), and a Spacecraft honoring Giovanni Domenico Cassini is lost. Besides icy moons of night, and over Rings of cold light, for mankind no longer to fly. In Mathematics of numbers and figures, Engineering build and operation, and Astronomy advance and navigation, the French / Italian will be pleased to learn of its heritage in honor of his gifted name.

yepi kizi March 20, 2013 at 9:10 AM

love it. amazing picture.Cassini. What would the world be like if the land masses were spread out the same way as now – only rotated by an angle of 90 degrees?

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