Titan + Dione = New Desktop

by Nancy Atkinson on June 21, 2010

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Titan and Dione as seen by Cassini. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Another stunning image from the Cassini spacecraft, suitable for wallpaper on your desktop. Click image for larger version, or click here for a large 1.125 MB version.

This is Saturn’s moon Dione, in crisp detail, against a hazy, ghostly Titan. Simply stunning.

The “wispy” terrain on Dione is visible, and on Titan are hints of atmospheric banding around Titan’s north pole. This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Dione (1123 kilometers, 698 miles across) and Titan (5150 kilometers, 3200 miles across), and was taken on April 10, 2010.

No images available yet from Cassini’s extremely close flyby of Titan over the weekend where it buzzed the hazy moon at an altitude of just 880 kilometers (547 miles) above the surface.

That is 70 kilometers (43 miles) lower than it has ever been at Titan before. The reason for attempting such a close pass is to try and establish if Titan has a magnetic field of its own. But the Cassini team went through hours and hours of calculations for this close flyby, as Titan’s atmosphere applies torque to objects flying through it, much the same way the flow of air would wiggle your hand around if you stuck it outside a moving car window. According to the Cassini website, when engineers calculated the most stable and safe angle for the spacecraft to fly, they found it was almost the same as the angle that would enable Cassini to point its high-gain antenna to Earth. So they cocked the spacecraft a fraction of a degree, enabling them to track the spacecraft in real-time during its closest approach. They set up the trajectory with thrusters firing throughout the flyby to maintain pointing automatically.

The images and data gathered should be amazing, as if everything went as planned, the flyby ended with the ultra violet imaging spectrograph (UVIS) instrument capturing a stellar occultation outbound from Titan. We’ll keep you posted!

Source: CICLOPS, Carolyn Porco on Twitter

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.

J. Major June 21, 2010 at 8:47 AM

I love shots like this! Such a great sense of depth. Helps that Titan is naturally out-of-focus. :)

Reminds me of a similar image from a little while back that I had assembled into an RGB color version. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lightsinthedark/4698157425/) Dione seems to like hogging the camera!

vagueofgodalming June 21, 2010 at 10:53 AM

The relative sizes are very similar to Earth and Moon.

astrofizix June 21, 2010 at 7:53 AM

that is so eerie. I feel like i’m floating in orbit around saturn staring at Dione. Can’t wait for those flyby pics! should be extremely insightful.

A magnetic field around titan would imply alot more about the interior structure of titan and it’s relationship to saturn. Also it might make it a more congenial location in our solar system. Keep it up cassini!

tek_604 June 21, 2010 at 9:53 PM

Love the idea of “real-time” tracking of Cassini, considering it takes around an hour for the radio signal to reach Earth from Saturn.

Aqua June 22, 2010 at 5:49 AM

Go Cassini! Stilll a toss up between this mission or the Gallileo mission or the MRO or the LRO as to which mission is my favorite? But then again, there’s Kepler, SDO, SOHO and others that continue to knock my sox off…Go Voyager!

Reminds me: What a great time to be alive! (Not sure why the best and the worst have to happen at the same time though… humanity’s Karma?)

Aodhhan June 22, 2010 at 7:01 AM

Aqua…
You’re absolutely right!

Fluffmachine June 22, 2010 at 1:34 PM

@aqua
Very true!

Thanks for the picture nancy.

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