Monday, November 23, 2009

Spectacular Cassini Images of Enceladus

While Melinda and I take pride in providing nearly 100% of the images we show on our blog, the images released from the Cassini Saturn mission today are too amazing not to share. For a long time, I've also wanted to show some optical stereo images, and these are a spectacular place to start.

For a little background, Cassini has been circling Saturn for 5 years now and has been a spectacularly successful mission. It is currently on it's 121st trip through the Saturnian system, and 2 days ago had a close pass of the icy moon Enceladus, zipping only 1,000 miles (1,600 km) over it's south pole. Current models of the moon consist of a liquid water ocean covered by an ice layer. It has been known for some time that geysers form in cracks in the ice layer, spewing water vapor and ices into space, forming what is called Saturn's E ring.

Photo pairs from the satellite pass can be used to generate a stereo view. Taken a short time apart as the spacecraft moves past, if the slightly different perspectives are each viewed by our eyes, stereo depth is recreated. In these photos, the right image should be viewed with your left eye, the left image by your right. At a comfortable viewing distance, cross your eyes slightly, and 3 images should form, the center one showing stereo detail. Click for the full-size images, but the technique works for the small images as well.

Passing just 1,000 miles from the moon provides exquisite resolution with the telescopic lenses on the spacecraft. Scientists are just astounded with the backlit geyser images, and a full analysis of the images will no doubt revise current thinking about Enceladus, as well as Saturn and it's collection of other moons.

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