Cassini snaps image of the Saturnian moons Enceladus, Rhea and Atlas
NASA has released a stunning image captured by its Cassini spacecraft, showcasing the gas giant's distinctive rings framed by three of its eclectic moons. The image was taken soon after the veteran spacecraft's final flyby of the icy moon Enceladus, which took place on Dec. 19.
At the time the image was taken, Enceladus was orbiting at a distance of approximately 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) from the veteran spacecraft, with the larger moon Rhea roughly 1.8 million miles (2.8 million km) distant. The image captures the unilluminated side of Saturn's familiar ring system, causing it to appear relatively dull when compared to the sunward facing regions of the moons.
A third tiny moon known as Atlas is also captured in the new release. However, despite the fact that the moon was closer than Rhea at the time of snapping the image, its relatively diminutive size of only 20 miles (32 km) in diameter causes Atlas to appear as little more than a grey speck above Saturn's F ring.
Later this year, Cassini will begin the "Grand Finale", which will see the spacecraft undertake a series of daring maneuvers, including 22 passes between Saturn's surface and its innermost ring.