NASA craft captures a trio of moons amid Saturn's rings

Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas pose like celestial siblings for a dramatic image just released from the Cassini mission.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

The Cassini spacecraft is certainly one moonstruck little explorer. Since arriving at Saturn in 2004, the probe has sent back a host of images both of Saturn and some of its 62 moons.

Last week, NASA released an image from Cassini that showed what looked like the Saturnian moon Dione getting sliced in two by the planet's rings. Now, the space agency just dropped another photo that shows a trio of moons hanging above and below the famous discs of ice and dust.

The shot, released Monday, shows the moon Tethys above the rings. Tethys is a relatively small moon, measuring only 662 miles (1,066 kilometers) in diameter. Cassini was about 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers) away from it when the photo was taken December 3. The fact that the moon is so clear in the image gives you an idea of the capabilities of Cassini's cameras, which were made before the craft's launch in 1997.

For a sense of scale, our moon measures 3,476 kilometers in diameter, so it's a little more than three times as big as Tethys, and it's only 238,855 miles (384,400 kilometers) away from the Earth on average.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The moon visible directly below the rings is Enceladus, with a diameter of 313 miles (504 kilometers). To the bottom left of that satellite is Mimas, measuring 246 miles (396 kilometers) across.

Cassini is well acquainted with Enceladus, an icy Saturnian moon that might hold the best chance of sustaining life in our solar system. The probe flew through one of the plumes jetting from the moon as it got within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of its surface in October.

Cassini is currently zipping around Saturn's largest moon, Titan, where it will spend most of this year, hopefully sending back even more spectacular images to its home planet.

NASA shoots for Saturn's moons with dazzling Cassini views (pictures)

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