PASADENA, Calif. — No team of reindeer, but radio signals flying clear across the solar system from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have delivered a holiday package of glorious images. The pictures, from Cassini’s imaging team, show Saturn’s largest, most colorful ornament, Titan, and other icy baubles in orbit around this splendid planet.
The release includes images of satellite conjunctions in which one moon passes in front of or behind another. Cassini scientists regularly make these observations to study the ever-changing orbits of the planet’s moons. But even in these routine images, the Saturnian system shines. A few of Saturn’s stark, airless, icy moons appear to dangle next to the orange orb of Titan, the only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere. Titan’s atmosphere is of great interest because of its similarities to the atmosphere believed to exist long ago on the early Earth.
While it may be wintry in Earth’s northern hemisphere, it is currently northern spring in the Saturnian system and it will remain so for several Earth years. Current plans to extend the Cassini mission through 2017 will supply a continued bounty of scientifically rewarding and majestic views of Saturn and its moons and rings, as spectators are treated to the passage of northern spring and the arrival of summer in May 2017.
“As another year traveling this magnificent sector of our solar system draws to a close, all of us on Cassini wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday season, ” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.