Cassini captures detailed views of Enceladus' north polar region
NASA'S Cassini spacecraft has returned the closest ever view of the Saturnian moon Enceladus' north polar region as part of a data transmission from the spacecraft following the first of three close passes of the icy body. The flyby took place on Oct. 14, and saw the orbiter pass within 1,142 miles (1,839 km) of the enigmatic Moon.
Having explored Saturnand her many satellites for over 18 years, the orbiter is nowreaching the point where it is saying its final farewells to thecelestial bodies that have been the focus of its operational life.
Despite its longcampaign, and the inevitability of its impending termination, theveteran spacecraft is still granting us stunning views and scientificinsights regarding some of Saturn's strangest moons. The recentimages returned by Cassini represent the most detailed views evercaptured of the north polar region of Enceladus.
During earlier flybys,this area has been shrouded in darkness as the region transitionedthrough its winter phase, preventing the probe from making detailedobservations. However, during the recent pass the pole wasilluminated, allowing the spacecraft to get the first close up lookat the surface features marking the expanse.
Previous lower-resolution images of the northern region, taken by the Voyagerspacecraft, had led scientists to expect it take on a crateredappearance.
"The northernregions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracksthat slice through the craters," says Paul Helfenstein of theCassini imaging team at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. "Thesethin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that theyextend across the northern terrains as well."
The Cassini scienceteam hope to gain further insights into the mechanics at work beneaththe icy crust of the icy moon during the next two flybys, scheduled totake place on Oct. 28 and Dec. 19.