Titan + Dione = New Desktop

by Nancy Atkinson on June 21, 2010

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


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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