Moment of Wonder: The Rings and Moons of Saturn

Saturn's rings and three of its moons.

When I was a kid, the mystery of Saturn’s vast rings had me in their sway. I did a number of school projects on our solar system’s second-largest planet and even attempted to draw a comic book chronicling the adventures of its alien inhabitants.

The recent photos coming back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have helped rekindle that fascination (although I’ve long since given up any aspirations of being a comic artist). Yep, those vast rings still hold plenty of mystery.

Take, for example, this photo Cassini snapped of three of Saturn’s moons — Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas — straddling the rings.

In this configuration, Tethys (660 miles across) appears above the rings, while Enceladus (313 miles across) is just below at the center and Mimas (246 miles across) is located to its left.

For those keeping track of such things, the craft acquired the shot at a distance of 837,000 miles from Enceladus. Tethys was 1.2 million miles away and Mimas was approximately 1.1 million miles away.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.


Moments of Wonder: Enceladus and Dione


NASA's shot of Enceladus and Dione

NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn continues to amaze. Check out this shot of its contrasting moons, Enceladus and Dione.

The surface of the brighter, smaller Enceladus receives a constant rain of ice grains from its south polar jets. Its surface, therefore, is white like fallen snow, while  bright, Dione’s older surface appears to have darkened as it gathered dust and radiation damage in a process scientists call “space weathering.”

Sixty-two moons orbit Saturn. Only 53 of them are named.

Check out out NASA’s Cassini page for more information on the mission and a bevy of breathtaking photos.