August 30, 2012
Cassini Takes Spectacular Images Of Saturn And Moon Titan
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As NASA´s Cassini spacecraft continues its long-term visit of the sixth planet from the sun, it is continuing to surprise scientists with stunning images of the Saturnian environment.
In the latest round of images, Cassini has shown the “true colors” of Saturn, and its largest moon Titan, in a spectacular fashion. One image captures the changing hues of Saturn´s northern and southern hemispheres as they pass from one season to the next. Another image captures Titan as it passes in front of Saturn.
When Cassini first arrived at Saturn eight years ago, the planet´s northern hemisphere was an azure winter blue. Now the winter colors are encroaching on the southern hemisphere as summer takes its stronghold in the north, reversing the color schemes as the two sides switch seasons.
Other images taken by Cassini depict the newly discovered south polar vortex in the atmosphere of Titan. Cassini´s visible-light cameras have picked up a concentration of yellowish haze in the detached haze layer at Titan´s south pole since at least March 27. And the spacecraft´s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer spotted the massing of clouds around the south pole as early as May 22. A June 27 flyby of Titan revealed a dramatic image and video showing the vortex rotating faster than the moon's rotation period.
The newly released images were taken by Cassini between May and July of 2012.
Cassini operators said some of the spacecraft´s views are only possible because the craft's newly inclined orbits allow more direct viewing of the polar regions of the planet and its moons. Scientists are looking forward to more spectacular images and video during the remainder of Cassini´s lengthy visit of Saturn.
“Cassini has been in orbit now for the last eight years, and despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will show us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous,” said Carolyn Porco, imaging team lead based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Cassini, which was launched in 1997, is in its second mission extension, known as the Solstice Mission, where its main goal is to observe and analyze seasonal changes in the Saturnian system.
“It is so fantastic to experience, through the instruments of Cassini, seasonal changes in the Saturn system,” said Amanda Hendrix, deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (JPL), California. “Some of the changes we see in the data are completely unexpected, while some occur like clockwork on a seasonal timescale. It's an exciting time to be at Saturn.”