January 27, 2017

Cassini captures images of ‘Death Star’ moon– or is it an eyeball?

That’s not an eyeball, or the Death Star – it’s Saturn’s moon Tethys as seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

The massive crater on Tethys clearly visible in the latest Cassini images is about 660 miles across and one of many that can be seen on the moon.

"These impacts are a prime shaper of the appearance of a moon's surface, especially when the moon has no active geological processes," NASA officials said about the image in a statement. “In this case, a large impact not only created a crater known as Odysseus, but the rebound of the impact caused the mountainous peaks, named Scheria Montes, to form in the center of the crater."

The images of Tethys were taken from the leading side of the moon with the "eyeball" looking north. Cassini's narrow-angle camera captured the image from around 230,000 miles away on Nov. 10, 2016. NASA released the image earlier this week.

Cassini's Amazing Images

For nearly two decades, Cassini has been on a mission to explore Saturn, its moons, and its rings. The mission is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency.

Twelve years ago this month, a landing craft launched from Cassini touched down on one of Saturn’s other moons, Titan. Developed by the ESA, the Huygens probe only survived for about an hour on the surface, but that was more than enough time to send back highly-detailed pictures of the Earth-like moon.

With its mountain ranges, rain, wind, and seas, Titan is actually more like a planet than merely a different lifeless, cratered moon. Titan is so cold that ethane and methane, which are normally gasses on Earth, have cooled into liquids, forming seas on the moon's exterior. Titan also has an ocean of liquid water buried under its rocky surface, making it one of the better places to search for life beyond our planet.

“Titan is kind of a double ocean world,” planetary scientist Sarah Hörst, of Johns Hopkins University, recently told National geographic. “In principle, there’s the possibility that it has both life as we know it and life as we don’t know it.”


Image credit: NASA