After spending a couple of years in an orbit riding high over the northern pole of Saturn Cassini has swung back down alongside the planet’s ringplane, in perfect alignment to once again capture views of the icy moons that reside there. The image above is a composite made from several narrow-angle camera images acquired by Cassini on Feb. 9, 2015, showing an extended color view of Rhea as the spacecraft was heading to perform a targeted flyby of the larger haze-covered moon Titan.
Saturn’s second-largest moon, the heavily-cratered Rhea wouldn’t appear this golden to our eyes; its natural colors are much more monochromatic (i.e., grey.) But Cassini can “see” in light stretching from ultraviolet to infrared, and that added range lets us see Rhea in a new light.
At 1,600 miles (2,576 km) across Titan is by far Saturn’s largest moon – in fact it’s the second-largest satellite in the solar system. It’s also the only world besides Earth where liquids have been found in large amounts on the surface, in the form of lakes and streams of frigid methane and ethane. This makes Titan an intriguing subject of study for planetary scientists, but unfortunately it’s not all that easy to get a good look at its surface because of its thick orange clouds and dense atmosphere.
Now, researchers have developed a “despeckling” method to smooth out Cassini’s typically grainy radar maps, giving scientists a whole new way to look at Titan’s alien — yet surprisingly Earth-like — surface.
This incredible image was captured ten years ago today, on January 14, 2005. It shows the murky surface of Saturn’s moon Titan as seen by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe after it made its historic descent through the moon’s thick haze and clouds and landed in a frozen plain of crusty methane mud and icy pebbles. During the descent and after landing Huygens returned data for several hours before communication was lost. The groundbreaking images and information it sent back has proved invaluable to scientists studying this unique and mysterious moon, which is at the same time extremely alien and surprisingly Earth-like.
“It was eerie…we saw bright hills above a dark plain, a weird combination of light and dark. It was like seeing a landscape out of Dante.”
– Jonathan Lunine, Cassini-Huygens mission scientist
Learn more about the Huygens landing here and check out an incredible video below zooming in a billion times from Saturn orbit to Titan’s surface:
It’s the signature accessory of the largest planet in our solar system: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, an enormous anticyclone over twice the width of our entire planet. Visible in even modest backyard telescopes, the GRS has been churning away for at least several hundred years. But, based on recent analysis of data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft during its pass by Jupiter in December 2000, the Great Red Spot’s rusty coloration may actually only be skin-deep – a “sunburn” created by interaction between Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and solar radiation.
It may not be in color but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful: this stunning image from Cassini shows Saturn and its largest moon Titan – the second-largest moon in our solar system, after Jupiter’s Ganymede – from their night sides, both showing their crescents against the blackness of space.
Titan’s crescent nearly wraps all the way around its globe, because of the way its thick atmosphere scatters sunlight.
The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.7 million kilometers) from about 3 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in violet wavelengths with Cassini’s wide-angle camera (WAC) on Aug. 11, 2013.
There’s nothing like the beautiful reflection of sunlight off the mirrored surface of a lovely lake… regardless if you’re on Earth or Saturn’s moon Titan! This picture, a mosaic of images acquired by Cassini’s Visual Infrared and Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument during a flyby on August 21, 2014, shows exactly that: sunglint reflecting off the super-smooth surface of the moon’s largest polar lakes.
(Except unlike on Earth this lake isn’t filled with liquid water but rather liquid methane and ethane!)