The Cassini probe is a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and launched in 1997 before arriving at Saturn in June 2004. The main objective of its mission is to explore Saturn and its moons, as well as studying the composition of its rings, to improve our knowledge of the gas planet and the history of the solar system, writes Ana Verayo of China Topix.
Rhea seen in full color for the first time
The amazing images were taken from Cassini’s equatorial orbit around Saturn, from which it has been observing the planet’s polar regions. The high-definition, hyper color composite images were taken February 9 using the spacecraft’s narrow angle camera, with some input from the wide angle camera.
The whole image was generated by Heike Rosenberg and Tilmann Denk at Freie Universität in Berlin. Rhea is highly reflective thanks to the icy surface of the moon, where temperatures reach as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cassini has shown that Rhea is covered in huge craters, which could reveal information about the history of the solar system with further study.
The beautiful images are actually the product of an accident, as scientists originally planned to make a flyby of another of Saturn’s moons, Titan. Rhea has a diameter of around 950 miles, making it less than a third as wide as Titan.
Cassini approaching the end of its life
It is thought that Cassini will exhaust its fuel reserves within two and a half years, and is set to carry out one last flyby of Saturn’s rings before it reaches the end of its life. There should be enough fuel to make one last flyby of Titan, Dione and Enceladus before the spacecraft dives down into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will bow it in a ball of flames.
Cassini has sent back reams of fascinating data, and has even revealed that Enceladus seems to contain a giant ocean of salty, liquid water under its surface. The tiny probe has just enough fuel to make one last push to gather data before it bids us farewell.