Published: Sun, January 22, 2017
Science | By Boyd Webster

Cassini spots a small moon surfing through Saturn's rings

Cassini spots a small moon surfing through Saturn's rings

Daphnis is about five miles (8 kilometres) in diameter and orbits Saturn in the 26-mile (42-kilometer) wide Keeler Gap within the A ring - the outermost of the large bright rings. Scientists believe these bands could be a sign of the ring-particles that pile up on the surface as the body sweeps through the Keeler Gap, like dust on a auto driving down a dry, dirt road.

Vertical structures created by Saturn's moon Daphnis rise above the planet's otherwise flat, thin disk of rings to cast long shadows in this 2009 Cassini image.

NASA's Cassini mission was launched in 2004 and it captured some fantastic pictures of the Saturnian system.

The Cassini spacecraft has captured the closest ever view of Saturn's small, 'wavemaker, ' moon, Daphnis, allowing astronomers to observe new details up close.

The US space agency NASA has released a lovely and close view of the wavemaker moon "Daphnis". A few craters are obvious at this resolution. Considering the distance, every pixel in the photo is equal to 551 feet. The ring gap also looks more narrow than its 26-mile width, an optical effect known as foreshortening.

Daphnis orbits within Saturn's Keeler Gap, where it raises waves in Saturn's rings.

A faint line follows Daphnis which comes from a packet of material Daphnis picked up that is now spreading out
A faint line follows Daphnis which comes from a packet of material Daphnis picked up that is now spreading out

It was first seen in images taken by Cassini in May 2005, as the spacecraft began its climb to higher inclinations in orbit around Saturn.

The image is the latest in a series of spectacular pictures of Saturn's rings and moons sent back by the spacecraft.

In contrast to the sharp edges of the Keeler Gap, the wave peak in the gap edge at left has a toned-down appearance. This line comes from Daphnis drawing a packet of material from the ring, and now the material is spreading out.

A faint wisp of ring material is seen trailing just behind the moon and NASA says this may be leftover from a moment when Daphnis pulled a clump of material out of the ring. In this phase of ring-grazing maneuvers, the spacecraft circles above the poles of Saturn by swimming through the unexplored outer edges of the main rings at 20 times.

Running low on fuel, Cassini will make 22 trips through the 1,500-mile (2,400-kilometer) ring gap just above Saturn from April 26 until September 15, when the spacecraft will make a final destructive plunge into the planet, transmitting data on its atmosphere until the signal is lost.

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