Do your eyes deceive you? Not one bit. In this image there really are not one, not two, but three of Saturn’s moons, dancing around the gas giant's rings. Pretty amazing, eh?
This incredible image was captured by the Cassini spacecraft on December 3, 2015 and revealed this week by NASA. In it we see the moons (in order of size) Mimas at the bottom left, Enceladus just below the rings, and Tethys just above. The image was taken from a distance of 1.35 million kilometers (837,000 miles) from the closest moon seen, Enceladus.
Each moon is fascinating in its own right. Mimas is often known as the “death star moon” owing to a large dominant crater named Herschel on its leading hemisphere. Enceladus, meanwhile, is thought to have a vast ocean of liquid water lurking under its icy surface. And Tethys, aside from having a large crater similar to Mimas, may have also been partially sculpted by cryovolcanoes.
The Cassini mission is continuing to explore the Saturnian system. Following a flyby of Titan last week, it has more planned flybys of Titan throughout the year in addition to Enceladus and Rhea. The mission is due to end next year on September 15, when Cassini will purposely be sent into the atmosphere of Saturn, to prevent it accidentally crashing on and contaminating one of the moons of Saturn when it runs out of fuel.
Before then, you can be sure we’ll see more fascinating images like this.