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Emily LakdawallaSeptember 2, 2010

Fly over Saturn's icy moons

A couple of weeks ago Paul Schenk posted a few really cool videos to his personal blog. Paul's subspecialty is the topography of icy moons, and he's been doing a lot of work on the moons of Saturn lately. My favorite of the three videos he posted recently flies along the famous equatorial ridge of Iapetus, with its weird, rounded mountain peaks and icy white flanks. (I should note that even though the flanks are shown bright white here, they're still pretty dirty as Saturn moon ices go. Still, they'd certainly appear shiny white with respect to the sooty black dark material that covers the rest of these mountains.)

Paul's videos are on YouTube but for some reason the Embed link isn't appearing for me, so I'll just share links to his Iapetus, Rhea, and Tethys videos, and include a cool still from the Iapetus one below.

Iaptus' equatorial mountain ridge

Image data: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI. Image processing, stereo topography, and visualization were performed by Dr. Paul Schenk, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston

Iaptus' equatorial mountain ridge
One of the many surprises of Saturn's icy moon Iapetus is the prominent topographic ridge that straddles the equator like a walnut. The Cassini orbiter acquired a strip of color and stereo images along this ridge in September 2007, near the boundary between the dark and bright hemispheres. The origin of the ridge is unknown but Cassini's stereo data indicate the ridge at this site is broken into several sharp peaks 15 to 20 kilometers above the surrounding dark cratered plains. These are among the highest peaks in the Solar System. This perspective view looks southeast toward one of these peaks and is based on stereo topography derived from Cassini orbiter imaging data. Patches of bright pure water ice can be seen flanking these dark peaks, which have the brightness of soot. The scene is about 70 kilometers across and is excerpted from a movie showing a hypothetical flight over Iapetus.

These videos are cool -- I can't wait to see what he does for Vesta, now that he's been newly created as a member of the Dawn science team!

Read more: pretty pictures, Cassini, podcasts and videos, Iapetus, Saturn's moons, 3D

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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