Sep. 19, 2011 at 8:08 PM ET
Raw pictures from the Cassini orbiter throw a spotlight on the rugged terrain of the Saturnian moon Enceladus — as well as the rugged business of sending pictures back to Earth from almost a billion miles away.
The left side of this picture highlights the cracks and crevices on Enceladus' icy surface, which are thought to provide an outlet for geysers of water spewing from the moon's interior. The right side is overlaid with a grid of lines that represent data loss during transmission. Such unprocessed images can still contribute to a clearer picture of Enceladus' surface, once the imaging team at the Colorado-based Space Science Institute does its magic.
The picture was taken during a flyby last Tuesday, from a distance of about 42,625 kilometers (26,640 miles). Still more unprocessed imagery from that flyby are available from the imaging team's website.
"Stay tuned for several 'targeted' flybys of Enceladus coming up in the next several months," team leader Carolyn Porco writes in an email update. "We have three encounters between October 1 and November 6 this year, with closest approach distances ranging from 99 to 1,231 kilometers, and another three between March 27 and May 2 of 2012, all with closest approaches about 75 kilometers. Should be grand."
Porco calls Enceladus "my favorite moon," probably because its warm spots and geysers raise so many interesting questions about what lies beneath. Could there be life? Let's hope future missions will be able to answer that question. In the nearer term, let's hope that the stream of pictures from Cassini continues for a long, long time.
More gems from Saturn and its moons: