The Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its nearly two decade long mission, over twelve of which it spent in orbit around Saturn. The spacecraft is executing a series of ring grazing orbits, before a penultimate series of maneuvers that will take it between the rings and Saturn. Cassini will end its mission by crashing into Saturn, to prevent any potential contamination of the moons of Saturn.
Cassini has made its final close approach to Saturn's moon, Mimas. Cassini photographed the pockmarked moon from 41,230 kilometers away. Any further approaches to the moon will be from over twice the distance. Over the course of its mission, Cassini made only seven close approaches to Mimas. Cassini had imaged Mimas, which is intimately linked to the ring system and is in an orbit in one of the gaps in the rings known as the Cassini division, even before it started the ring grazing orbits.
The ring grazing orbits have been particularly successful for imaging the inner moons of Saturn. Daphnis has been photographed multiple times by Cassini, showing kilometers wide ripples that it causes on the ring system, an aspect of the moon that has earned it the moniker "The Wavemaker". Cassini has also imaged moving methane clouds on one of the larger moons that has an atmosphere, Titan. Cassini had also found evidence of a global sub surface ocean and water plumes on Enceladus, a finding that was recently confirmed by Hubble.
Nasa has released two images that are mosaic composites from the final close flyby. The first one shows the craters of Mimas highlighted by the light from Saturn, and the second mosaic enhances the dark side of the moon to boost the visibility of the surface features. There are a number of craters on the surface of Mimas, the largest of which is called the Herschel crater. Viewed from certain angles, the Herschel crater makes Mimas appears like the Death Star from the Star Wars films. The Cassini orbiter is a collaborative effort by Nasa, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency.
Published Date: Mar 15, 2017 04:45 pm | Updated Date: Mar 15, 2017 04:45 pm