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Sci-Tech

NASA spies 'cosmic bull's-eye' as two moons line up perfectly

Two of Saturn's many moons line up for a special Cassini spacecraft photo op as they strike a pose with rings against a backdrop of the blackness of space.

Two moons align above Saturn's rings.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has haunted Saturn's neighborhood since it arrived there in 2004. It's a crowded place in space to be. Saturn has over 50 named moons and more than 60 satellites in all.

Two of those are Enceladus and Tethys, which recently aligned in Cassini's line of sight for a fascinating photo.

The dramatic image shows Saturn's rings stretching across the center of the picture with Enceladus sitting directly in front of Tethys, making what NASA describes as a "cosmic bull's eye."

The shot illustrates the relative sizes of the moons. Enceladus is 313 miles (504 kilometers) across while Tethys is over twice its size at 660 miles (1,062 kilometers) across. The image was taken on September 24 and released by NASA on Monday.

Cassini was located about 1.3 million miles away from Enceladus when it took the picture. The spacecraft took a daring dive through an icy spray emanating from Enceladus back in October, coming to within just 30 miles of the moon's surface. NASA hopes to discover if the moon hides a subsurface ocean and might be hospitable to life in some form.

Cassini has been on an impressive run this year of offering up sensational images of the moons around Saturn. Close flybys of Enceladus and Dione revealed details about those moons' surfaces, showing the craggy nature of Dione and the bright white surface and icy plume of Enceladus.

The craft also sidled up to smaller, lesser-known moons like Prometheus, a small potato-shaped object. The Cassini mission, a joint effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, is set to continue in its studies. It will engage in a series of close orbits of Saturn, revisit the largest moon Titan and dive in between Saturn's atmosphere and the innermost ring in 2016.