Science

Cassini Captured Closest View of Saturn's Daphnis

Cassini Captured Closest View of Saturn's Daphnis

In November, Cassini began one of its final acts-the ring grazing phase-which is yielding up-close-and-personal shots of Saturn's moons and rings. Fifty percent wider than the Grand Canyon, this dust-free band in the outermost A Ring of Saturn is thought to be kept clear by the moon's orbit around the gas giant.

Cassini-Huygens is a joint effort between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

According to NASA, The little moon's gravity raises waves in the edges of the gap in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Daphnis appears in between the Keeler Gap, a gap in the the A Ring, one of Saturn's large rings.

The image taken by Cassini's narrow-angle camera January 16 is the best view ever taken of Daphnis, a football-shaped object carving a gap in one of Saturn's outer rings.

A faint, narrow tendril of ring material is seen following just behind Daphnis. Remarkable details on Daphnis can also be seen, including a narrow ridge around its equator, likely an accumulation of particles from the ring. This trail of particle might be spreading itself out because the moon might have drawn some of them from the ring. The rings that surround Daphnis have a grainy texture, which come from particles clumping together.

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One of the main benefits of having an orbiting spacecraft in a planetary system is multiple opportunities to image fine features-such as the 8km-wide moon Daphnis grazing through this narrow gap.

As it nears the end of its mission, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been going in to get close-ups of Saturn's rings.

Cassini has been in space for the past two decades, starting in 1997. Photos taken from different angles have shown the vertical component of waves created by Daphnis, suggesting they rise between 0.5 to 1.5km high, which towers far above the rings that are only about 10 or 20 meters thick.

The "wavemaker moon" was first spotted in 2005 by Cassini when it was speeding through the 26-mile-wide Keeler Gap in Saturn's outer rings. And in September, we'll say goodbye to the spacecraft as it plunges headfirst into Saturn's atmosphere - where it will be irretrievably consumed, but not before collecting and transmitting as much data as it can.

Cassini captured an image of Saturn looking towards the sunlit side.


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