NASA releases stunning global maps of six of Saturn's moons

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Dione as mapped by the Cassini spacecraft (Image: NASA/JPL/SSI/LPI)

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NASA has released global maps of six of the Saturnian moons. The system has been under the intense examination of the Cassini-Huygens mission for the past decade, and the completion of the global maps represents the end of one of the legendary spacecraft's key mission objectives. Almost all of the maps are whole, though there are currently parts of Iapetus unfinished, as well as a region of the north pole of Enceladus set to be filled in some time next year.

Previously Saturn and her moons had been given a fleeting visit by the twin Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s, providing (what we would now consider to be) low-resolution maps of some of the enigmatic bodies orbiting the ringed giant. Unfortunately, the twin Voyager spacecraft had concerns beyond the Saturnian system, and so astronomers and scientists the world over were left wanting more.

Cassini became the answer to their prayers, and over the past 10 years has found new moons, given us insight into the formation of Saturn's rings and, in general, gifted us with a veritable bounty of information. One such use of the data collected by Cassini was the creation of the stunningly-detailed maps of Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea and Iapetus.

The new color maps are produced to include spectra of light slightly beyond what the human eye can ordinarily see, encroaching on the infrared and ultraviolet light wavelengths. This allows ordinarily subtle changes in the color of the moons to become more apparent than an entirely "natural" light image.

The maps have highlighted some interesting features present on some of the moons. For example, the trailing hemispheres of Tethys, Dione and Rhea have been marked a dark red color due to an alteration caused by Saturn's magnetosphere, involving charged particles and radiation.

Click through the gallery to compare the global maps taken by the twin Voyager spacecraft to the more detailed versions produced from data harvested by the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Source: NASA

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