The Cassini Probe is nearing the end of its long mission, but even now, the spacecraft is able to provide scientists with important data as well as other amazing discoveries such as the clearest picture yet of the very small moon which resides in the gap between Saturn’s rings
The Cassini probe is currently executing a series of orbits in close proximity to Saturn’s rings before it will descend into Saturn at the end of its mission. Scientists were eager to obtain data and learn more about the formation of rings. However, they were surprised to see that the probe was able to capture the clearest yet picture of the moon residing between the rings of Saturn.
The small moon is known as Daphnis and it just five miles in diameter. The close-up photo of the moon was taken on January 16, 2017, while orbiting the planet in the space between the rings known as the Keeler Gap. It consists of a 26-mile-wide area in the A Ring which surrounds Saturn. Scientists believe that the Keeler Gap is kept free of any space debris by Daphnis.
Although the Cassini probe took the picture at an angle which shows the gap to be much smaller than it actually, astronomers were still able to use the image to confirm certain theories they had regarding the moon and the edges of the rings. For example, scientists can now confirm that previously speculated existence of waves at the edges of the rings near the moon. This is caused by the small gravitation pull of Daphnis, which changes the pattern of the dust particles in the rings.
The Cassini probe shot the incredible image from 17,000 miles away using its narrow-angle camera capable of capturing images in visible light. Considering the distance, every pixel in the photo is equal to 551 feet.
Despite the important data collected by the Cassini probe, its mission will come to an end in April 2017 as its fuel supplies are almost gone. In order to avoid the contamination of any of Saturn’s moons which may one day be explored for signs of life, the probe will crash into Saturn where it will very likely meet a fiery death.
Image credit: NASA