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NASA’s Cassini probe captures stunning images of Saturn’s moon


NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made is a fifth flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione, allowing it to capture amazing photos of its cratered surface. The spacecraft flew about 295 miles from Dione’s surface on Aug. 17, and its camera captured detailed images of the moon’s frozen cratered surface, which also has “chasmata” — linear cuts into its surface.cassini-image-saturn-moon-dione

Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead said that he was moved by looking at the exquisite images of Dione’s surface and crescent, and knowing that they are the last we will see of this far-off world for a very long time to come. Dione measures about 698 miles (1,123 kilometers) around its equator, and orbits around Saturn in just three Earth days. This was the last time Cassini will make a flyby of the moon, but this is not the first time the spacecraft has captured pictures of the moon.

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“Dione has been an enigma, giving hints of active geologic processes, including a transient atmosphere and evidence of ice volcanoes,” said Bonnie Buratti, a Cassini science member at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory.

This marked Cassini’s fifth close approach with Dione in the past 11 years, exploring Saturn and its 62 moons. NASA said Cassini’s mission is set to end in 2017, but it would approach the moon Enceladus in October and December, and its October approach will be only 30 miles away from the moon’s surface. Cassini will be collecting ice samples from the “icy spray” of Enceladus, allowing NASA to know more about what lurks beneath the moon.

“We had just enough time to snap a few images, giving us nice, high resolution looks at the surface,” said Tilmann Denk, a Cassini participating scientist at Freie University in Berlin. “We were able to make use of reflected sunlight from Saturn as an additional light source, which revealed details in the shadows of some of the images.”

NASA added that the spacecraft would dive into Saturn’s rings, before it ends its mission. The Cassini mission is a joint project between NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. Once Cassini burns out of fuel, it would dive into Saturn’s atmosphere, burning itself up in the process.

The full set of images released today is available at: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/keywords/flyby

Raw, unprocessed images from the flyby are available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/flybys/dione20150817/

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