Cassini has finally achieved gorgeous global imaging of Helene with a spectacular flyby on Saturday, in which they got Helene to pose prettily for the camera from beginning to end of the encounter. And what a wacky, wacky world Cassini has revealed Helene to be!!
Last week I got very excited about a set of pictures that had appeared on Cassini's raw images website, but was sad that I couldn't make color versions myself. I was so excited that I failed to identify the little icy moon in the picture correctly.
It figures. I just start a three-week trip, with my only computer a diminutive Netbook, and guess what's just been radioed across the 1.3 billion kilometers separating us and Saturn? A set of photos that should become -- when properly processed -- an iconic image from Cassini's fourteen-year mission to the Saturn system.
It's a fact of life in science that not all of your hypotheses will turn out to be correct (or even verifiable at all). But there's a bias toward the publication of positive results -- the discovery of this, or the proof of that.
A lot of attention has been paid recently to a storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere that is large and bright enough to be visible from Earth, but Saturn's atmosphere actually features lots more swirling storms. They can be hard to see, at least in visible wavelengths.
NASA announced last week the start of a Participating Scientist program for Cassini, which is big news, for outer planets scientists anyway. Lots and lots of other missions have participating scientist programs, from big missions like Mars Science Laboratory to little ones like Dawn; but this is the first time for Cassini, which is kind of surprising given that it's been almost seven years since it arrived at Saturn.
Some recent photos that Cassini took from a position nearly in Saturn's shadow caught my eye, and I made a quick color composite. What an amazing view this would be if you were riding on the spacecraft!
Regular readers of this blog will find the content of today's 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast familiar, because it's an update on what the solar system exploration spacecraft are up to, based on my monthly "what's up" updates.
April 2011 will see MESSENGER begin the science phase of its orbital mission at Mercury, and should, I think, also see the start of Dawn's approach observations of Vesta. At Mars, Opportunity is back on the road again, rolling inexorably toward Endeavour. At Saturn, Cassini will continue its focus on Saturn and Titan science.
To relieve this week's text-heavy LPSC posts, here's a brief one on an incredible panorama across Saturn's northern storm, taken on February 26 by Cassini and assembled by unmannedspaceflight.com member "Astro0."
There is a huge storm that's spreading across so much of Saturn that it's been readily visible even from Earth-based telescopes. Over the past couple of days a couple of new images of Saturn have appeared that show just how enormous the storm is today.
Daniel Macháček has reached into the dark side of Prometheus and pulled out an incredible amount of detail where the potato-shaped moon is illuminated by Saturnshine. He produced an animation that morphs among the three sets of four-filter color images that Cassini snapped during the flyby.