Cassini Sends Rare Image Of Saturn's Moon Iapetus

15 June 2017, 9:42 am EDT By Andrew Norman Tech Times
NASA released a new image of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, which it dubbed a “cosmic puzzle.” The rare image of Iapetus showed Saturn’s natural satellite sporting a two-toned surface.  ( NASA | JPL-Caltech | Space Science Institute )

NASA describes Saturn's elusive moon Iapetus' new image a "cosmic puzzle piece." The space agency received a rare image of Saturn's natural satellite, which the Cassini spacecraft captured.

The rare picture showed the moon filled with light and dark areas. The image revealed that the moon's surface toward the sun is a world of contrasts, jumbled colors, and strange surface patterns.

For the unfamiliar, Iapetus is Saturn's third largest moon and the eleventh largest in our Solar System. Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini first discovered Iapetus in 1671.

Cassini Beams Back New Image Of Saturn's Moon Iapetus

In the rare image, left portion of the Saturn's moon Iapetus is seen covered with a sheet of dark and dusty material, which creates a striking contrast with its surrounding brighter region. This dark and dusty region is also known as Cassini Regio and has a 914-mile surface. The contrast is responsible for Iapetus' two-toned appearance.

The rare image NASA released to the public shows the view of Iapetus' Saturn-facing hemisphere. This picture was captured on March 11, 2017, with the help of Cassini's narrow-angle camera in visible light. At the time the image was captured, the distance between the Cassini spacecraft and Iapetus was approximately 1.62 million miles (2.6 million kms) while the image scale is 9 miles (15 kms) per pixel.

This wasn't the first time that the Cassini spacecraft observed the lesser-known Saturn moon in detail. In the past, the Cassini spacecraft observed several other features of Iapetus, which included the enormous ridge that originated from the moon's equator and ran three-quarters of the way around Saturn's natural satellite.

Iapetus is different from most known moons as its shape is neither ellipsoid, nor completely spherical. The Saturn moon's has squashed poles and a bulging waistline.

NASA's Cassini On Its Last Round Around Saturn

The Cassini mission is a collaborative venture of the NASA, the Italian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory supervises the mission on behalf of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

The two cameras aboard the Cassini orbiter, which were instrumental in capturing the Iapetus' recent image, were developed and assembled at the JPL. However, the imaging operations division of the Cassini mission is based in the Colorado Space Science Institute in Boulder.

The Cassini spacecraft is on its last leg before its takes the intentional plunge toward Saturn this September. The unmanned spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and is currently running low on fuel. Before entering Saturn, Cassini will be diving in and out from the planet's rings 22 times.

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