Hello, Daphnis! On January 16, 2017, the Cassini spacecraft captured the best photo yet of Daphnis, a 5-mile-wide shepherd moon that orbits Saturn inside the Keeler Gap at the outermost edge of the A ring (and also just so happens to be my personal favorite moon of Saturn!) The raw image arrived on Earth today, and it’s just beautiful.
Maybe something like THIS:
What a great combination: Daphnis (my favorite moon) and an artist’s interpretation of what it might look like to see it whiz past as it travels around Saturn inside the Keeler Gap, sending up waves in the rings as it goes! The image is by Erik Svensson, who came across my recent article on Universe Today and was reminded of an illustration he’d made a year ago.
After contacting me about it, I felt Erik’s work definitely belonged in the article as well as here on Lights in the Dark!
If you’ve been following along with Lights in the Dark since the beginning, you may know that this is one of my favorite subjects of space imagery: the shepherd moon Daphnis, traveling in its orbit around Saturn within the 26-mile-wide Keeler Gap. Recently color-calibrated by Gordan Ugarvovic, this is a true-color version of an image captured by Cassini on July 5, 2010. It was Cassini’s closest approach to the 4.5-mile-wide moon.
What makes Daphnis so interesting is its effect on the edges of the gap. As it travels its gravity affects the icy bits of ring material, churning them up into waves and scalloped edges before and behind it. These waves can rise up considerably into peaks and valleys, some reaching over a mile or two above the ring plane! Now that would be quite a dramatic sight to see close-up!
This is a great color version of an image I posted about shortly after it was first acquired. A new image from Gordan is always a treat!
Image: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic
Every six to nine months or so the Cassini Imaging Center dumps orbiter image data into NASA’s Planetary Data System, or PDS. This data is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, but it can be a little awkward to find exactly what you’re looking for (unless you’re familiar with the technical nomenclature of the dozen imaging filter codes and timestamps of Cassini data…in which case, dig in!) Luckily the SETI institute has set up a more user-friendly search engine that allows desktop astronomers to zero in on image collections with less data entry involved.
(More photos after the jump…)