The moons of Saturn are doing their best to upstage the planet’s iconic rings.
After Cassini snapped an image of Enceladus lurking in the darkness, the probe has come back with this stunner of Enceladus almost merging with the larger, Tethys in what NASA described as a cosmic bulls-eye.
Since the two moons are aligned and at similar distances from Cassini, the images offers up a good approximation of the relative sizes of Enceladus (313 miles across) and Tethys (660 miles across). This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from 0.34 degrees below the ring plane and was taken Sept. 24 in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera.
The image was taken from distance of approximately 1.3 million miles from Enceladus. Tethys was at a distance of 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers).
Since 2004, Cassini has been orbiting Saturn at a distance of about 980 million miles from Earth. In that time, the mission which is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, has made dozens of flybys of Saturn’s moons.
In the future, a different spacecraft may journey across the solar system to visit icy Enceladus. This spacecraft, unlike Cassini, could be designed to land on Enceladus’ surface, near one of its “tiger stripes.” Such a lander would be able to take samples more directly, bypassing the plume altogether.