NASA probe back to map Saturn's icy moons

After almost two years of hovering high above Saturn's poles that limited its ability to encounter the moons apart from regular flybys of Titan, NASA's Cassini probe has finally returned to the realm of icy moons.

IANS| Last Updated: Mar 31, 2015, 14:16 PM IST

Washington: After almost two years of hovering high above Saturn's poles that limited its ability to encounter the moons apart from regular flybys of Titan, NASA's Cassini probe has finally returned to the realm of icy moons.

The spacecraft returned to equatorial orbits around Saturn in March after nearly two years, allowing the mission to once again have close encounters with Saturn's moons other than Titan.

The latest dual view of Saturn's icy moon Rhea marks the return of NASA's Cassini spacecraft to the realm of the planet's icy satellites.

The two views of Rhea were taken about an hour-and-a-half apart when Cassini was about 50,000-80,000 km away from the moon.

The views show an expanded range of colours from those visible to human eyes in order to highlight subtle colour variations across Rhea's surface.

In natural colour, the moon's surface is fairly uniform. Cassini's orbit will remain nearly equatorial for the rest of this year, during which the spacecraft will have four close encounters with Titan, two with Dione and three with the geyser-moon called Enceladus.

Cassini officially began its new set of equatorial orbits March 16. The Cassini mission is a joint project of NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.