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Saturn's moons show their stuff

A backlit view of the Saturnian moon Enceladus, captured on Aug. 13, highlights geysers rising up from "tiger stripes."
A backlit view of the Saturnian moon Enceladus, captured on Aug. 13, highlights geysers rising up from "tiger stripes."NASA / JPL / SSI

The latest batch of pictures from the Cassini orbiter provides provocative new views of Saturn's moons - including some fresh looks at Enceladus, a moon that has geysers of frost spouting up from cracks in its icy shell. The raw images come from a flyby on Friday the 13th that brought the bus-sized spacecraft close to Enceladus as well as sister moons Tethys and Dione. Cassini has been circling the ringed planet for more than six years, and the pictures it has sent back have opened scientists' eyes to the wonders of Saturnian satellites. One of the latest pictures provides a backlit view of Enceladus' geysers in action. You can easily pinpoint the fissures, which are known as "tiger stripes" because they stand out on the surface like markings on a big cat's fur. Another raw image shows the spray from farther back (61,000 miles or 98,000 kilometers away).

NASA / JPL / SSI Damascus Sulcus in a Cassini close-up.

Yet another image provides a close-up of one of the best-known tiger stripes, Damascus Sulcus, from a distance of 1,670 miles (2,673 kilometers). Damascus Sulcus was also subjected to a heat scan by Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported today. I wondered about the haze of light-colored material surrounding the fissure in the close-up view. Does that picture actually show a tiger stripe in action? "We're not sure ... could be just ice deposits," the head of the Cassini imaging team, Carolyn Porco of the Colorado-based Space Science Institute, told me in an e-mail today. The analysis continues. Enceladus' tigers may be the current headliner at the Cassini circus, but there's lots more to see at this show: The spacecraft's camera captured one of the best views yet of 90-mile-wide (150-mile-wide) Penelope Crater on Tethys, as well as a nice profile of many-cratered Dione. The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla brings the show to life by animating some of the image sequences. Don't miss seeing Enceladus cross the edge of Saturn's disk, or watching Cassini zoom in toward Enceladus' tiger stripes. And if you haven't seen them yet, don't miss clicking through our own slideshow of Cassini's greatest hits. Join the Cosmic Log corps by signing up as my Facebook friend or hooking up on Twitter with @b0yle. If you really want to be friendly, ask me about "The Case for Pluto."