Hello, Helene!


On June 18, 2011, the Cassini spacecraft performed a flyby of Saturn’s moon Helene. Passing at a distance of 6,968 km (4,330 miles) it was Cassini’s second-closest flyby of the icy little moon.

The image above is a color composite made from raw images taken with Cassini’s red, green and blue visible light filters. There’s a bit of a blur because the moon shifted position in the frames slightly between images, but I think it captures some of the subtle color variations of lighting and surface composition very nicely!

3D anaglyph of Helene assembled by Patrick Rutherford.

At right is a 3D anaglyph view of Helene made by Patrick Rutherford from Cassini’s original raw images … if you have a pair of red/blue glasses, check it out!

Cassini passed from Helene’s night side to its sunlit side. This flyby will enable scientists to create a map of Helene so they can better understand the moon’s history and gully-like features seen on previous flybys.

(When Cassini acquired the images, it was oriented such that Helene’s north pole was facing downwards. I rotated the image above to reflect north as up.)

Helene orbits Saturn at the considerable distance of 234,505 miles (377,400 km). Irregularly-shaped, it measures 22 x 19 x 18.6 miles (36 x 32 x 30 km).

Helene is a “Trojan” moon of the much larger Dione – so called because it orbits Saturn within the path of Dione, 60º ahead of it. (Its little sister Trojan, 3-mile-wide Polydeuces, trails Dione at the rear 60º mark.) The Homeric term comes from the behavioral resemblance to the Trojan asteroids which orbit the Sun within Jupiter’s path…again, 60º in front and behind. These orbital positions are known as Lagrangian points (L4 and L5, respectively.)

Read more on the Cassini mission site here.

An irregular crescent: Cassini's flyby of Helene on June 18, 2011.

Images: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

Cassini Provides Stunning New Looks at Several Moons


The Cassini spacecraft recently had a mini ‘grand tour’ of several of Saturn’s moons and just sent back some great images of Helene, Mimas, Enceladus and Dione. Above is an amazing view of the Trojan moon Helene, which is only 32 kilometers (20 miles across) and shares an orbit with Dione. Cassini came withing 28,000 km (17,398 miles) of Helene. Thanks to Stu Atkinson for an enhanced version of this raw Cassini image. See one of the original raw images of Helene here.

This image of Saturn's moon Enceladus was obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Jan. 31, 2011. It shows the famous jets erupting from the south polar terrain of Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Cassini captured several images of the plumes spewing from Enceladus, and other closeup views of the moon’s terrain.

Closeup of Enceladus from approximately 78,015 kilometers away. Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
This view shows the bright, icy Mimas in front of Saturn's delicate rings. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

A crescent Dione was seen by Cassini on January 29, 2011 from approximately 767,922 kilometers away. Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

See more of the latest raw images at the Cassini website.