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spaceSpace and Physics

One Last Look At Saturn's Moon Dione

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Caroline Reid

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clockAug 24 2015, 22:35 UTC
1971 One Last Look At Saturn's Moon Dione
Last view from the Cassini orbiter of Saturn's moon, Dione. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

This extraordinary photograph marks the Cassini orbiter's final view of one of Saturn's many moons, Dione. Taken from a distance of 474 kilometers (295 miles) away, its pockmarked surface is shown in glorious detail. This is the fifth time that the orbiter has zipped past this moon, but this time it is also the probe's last. 

Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, commented on these images: "I am moved, as I know everyone else is, looking at these exquisite images of Dione's surface and crescent, and knowing that they are the last we will see of this far-off world for a very long time to come. 

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"Right down to the last, Cassini has faithfully delivered another extraordinary set of riches. How lucky we have been."

In light of the beauty of the photographs, it may surprise you to know that photography wasn't even the main purpose of the Cassini orbiter. Instead, it focuses on the gravitational forces between Saturn and its rings and many moons. It is using this data, paired with other information that Cassini has collected, to try and figure out what is going on in the cores of these moons. This made getting these fantastic images a challenge since the camera wasn't in control of which direction it was pointing. 

"We had just enough time to snap a few images, giving us nice, high resolution looks at the surface," Tilmann Denk of Freie University in Berlin said. "We were able to make use of reflected sunlight from Saturn as an additional light source, which revealed details in the shadows of some of the images."

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You can see an album of the most recent pictures from this flyby on NASA's website.

The next stages of the mission are going to become more and more dangerous for Cassini. It will be attempting three flybys of the active moon Enceladus. This part of the mission could be risky, since the moon spits out plumes of water ice and other particles. On its closest attempt, it will fly only 49 kilometers (30 miles) above the surface of the moon. 

The final stage of the mission will see the orbiter plunge between Saturn and its rings, taking footage and data for the benefit of scientists on Earth. 

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Saturn's moon Dione hangs in front of Saturn's rings, taken on Cassini's last flyby of Dione. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.


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