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Cassini's spectacular close pass of Saturn's moons (photos)

While recording ion and neutral mass spectrometer readings from Enceladus' south pole, NASA's Cassini orbiter passes within just 46 miles of the moon, capturing some astounding photos in the process.

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James Martin

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1 of 8 NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Cassini's incredible new views of Saturn's moons

Since completing it's original four year mission to Saturn back in 2008, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has returned dozens of stunning photos back to Earth.
Saturn, a planet 95 times more massive than Earth, has 62 moons, but only thirteen of them have diameters larger than 50 kilometres.
Saturn's moons are small compared to it's massive size, but here, four of Saturn's moons are visible here alongside the ringed planet. Two of these -- Janus and Epimetheus -- are so small, they're almost impossible to see here.
This week, NASA's Saturn orbserver Cassini returned incredible new views of the ringed planet's impressive moons, including the orbiter's closest-ever pass just 46 miles from Enceladus.
Mimas, 246 miles across, appears as a bright dot below the rings just to the right of the center of the image. Enceladus, 313 miles across, is visible below the rings on the far right of the image. Janus is 111 miles across, and can just barely be discerned as a tiny speck past Enceladus on the right edge of the image. Epimetheus, just 70 miles across, is likewise tiny, and can be detected on the extreme left of the image above the rings.
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2 of 8 NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn's moon Janus

New pictures recently returned from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show remarkable crisp and close images of Saturn's moons Enceladus, Janus and Dione this week.
This raw image of Saturn's moon Janus was taken during a pass of around 27,000 miles from the surface by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on March 27, 2012.
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3 of 8 NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Enceladus at approximately 19,810 miles

During a pass of Enceladus which came within 46 miles of the moon's surface, the primary mission was to collect samples with Cassini's ion and neutral mass spectrometer, evaluating the composition of Enceladus' south polar plume.
This raw image of Enceladus from NASA's Cassini spacecraft was taken from just 19,810 miles away on March 27, 2012.
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4 of 8 NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Icy particles and water vapor over south polar

Over the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, icy particles and water vapor spray out in sparkling plumes.
Cassini’s ion and neutral mass spectrometer measured composition, density and variability of the plumes, and using the plasma spectrometeranalyzed Saturn’s magnetic and plasma environment near Enceladus.
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5 of 8 NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Dione captured by the Cassini spacecraft

Taken March 28, 2012, this image of Dione was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft from approximately 49,087 miles away. Although it's only 697 miles in diameter, Dione is the 15th largest moon in the entire Solar System, and is more massive than all known moons smaller than itself combined.
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6 of 8 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Plume of water ice on the south polar region

From a distance of 83,000 miles, below a darkened Enceladus, a plume of water ice on the south polar region is backlit by the Sun in this visible light image of one of Saturn's most dramatic moons.
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7 of 8 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn's largest moon Titan

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which is 3,200 miles across, looks small here, pictured to the right of the gas giant in this Cassini spacecraft view.
The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 5, 2012 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers.
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8 of 8 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn's moon Mimas

With Saturn off to the left, out of view, it's moon Mimas is pictured next to Saturn's rings. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Dec. 21, 2011, from around 1.7 million miles from the moon.

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