Moons Near and Far…and More to Come!

Mimas and Epimetheus

246-mile-wide Mimas (foreground) and 70-mile-wide Epimetheus bracket a section of Saturn’s rings in this color-calibrated image from the Cassini spacecraft, taken in October 2009.

Cassini discovered ice geysers on Enceladus in 2005

Happily, we can expect to see beautiful images like this for another  7 years…NASA has extended the Cassini mission until at least 2017! During that time Cassini will transition into its “Solstice” mission, observing Saturn as its summer season approaches and performing more flybys of its moons Titan and Enceladus.

This will allow scientists to study the Saturnian system for the first time over the course of a full seasonal period, winter to summer.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 after a seven-year journey from Earth. Since then it has sent back over 210,000 images, landed the Huygens probe on Titan, executed 67 flybys of Titan and 8 of Enceladus and several of other moons as well, and discovered countless amazing and unexpected details about the planet’s ring system and atmosphere. And, after traveling over 2.6 billion miles, it’s still performing very well.

“This is a mission that never stops providing us surprising scientific results and showing us eye popping new vistas. The historic traveler’s stunning discoveries and images have revolutionized our knowledge of Saturn and its moons.”

– Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division

Read more about the Cassini mission’s extension here, or visit the main mission site.

Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute