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Emily LakdawallaJanuary 15, 2016

Pretty pictures: Bittersweet goodies from Cassini at Titan, Enceladus, and Telesto

Tomorrow, Cassini will fly by Titan, picking up a gravity assist that will tilt its orbit slightly up and out of the ring plane. That will end what has been a wonderful year of frequent encounters with Saturnian moons. In fact, this is it for Cassini equatorial orbits; the mission has no further close-up, targeted encounters with any other moon except Titan, which it must continue to pass for orbital tweaking. Cassini will continue to acquire occasional, more distant photos, but there are only three mid-sized moon flybys with any planned imaging this year, one of Mimas in March and one each of Tethys and Enceladus in November.

So my feelings are mixed right now as I visit the Cassini raw images website and check out the latest photos, which feature many pretty pictures of Enceladus, Mimas, and smaller moons, notably Telesto:

Telesto

NASA / JPL / SSI / Phil Stooke

Telesto
This is a composite of four images of Telesto taken by Cassini on January 14, 2016. Telesto occupies the leading Lagrange point in Tethys' orbit.

I thought this image of Enceladus over Saturn was especially pretty and poignant:

Enceladus and Saturn

NASA / JPL / SSI / Elisabetta Bonora & Marco Faccin

Enceladus and Saturn
Cassini captured the images for this striking crescent Enceladus on December 19, 2015.

And not to neglect Titan, here's a really nice recent global portrait:

New Year Titan

NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans

New Year Titan
Cassini took the images for this color portrait of Titan on December 31, 2015.

Val Klavans processed another image from the same observation, taken through a methane filter so as to make the surface visible. I think this is my favorite hemisphere of Titan. Enjoy using the "Before & After" feature to strip the atmosphere away from the surface:

Before & After: Titan above and below the atmosphere
Before & After: Titan above and below the atmosphere

NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans

Before & After: Titan above and below the atmosphere
Cassini captured these images on December 31, 2015. Seen in visible light, Titan's atmosphere makes an opaque orange haze. Seen at an infrared wavelength at which methane is transparent, fuzzy surface features come into view. The "H" on Titan is made by two dark, dune-filled regions named Fensal and Aztlan.

I made a map so you can see what all these geographic features are named:

Titan geography around Fensal-Aztlan

NASA / JPL / SSI / Emily Lakdawalla

Titan geography around Fensal-Aztlan

All too soon, all of Cassini's images of moons will be in the Planetary Data System, and I'll start making summary collages of Cassini's moon imaging. That's going to be fun, but also sad. I'm not ready for this mission to be over!

Read more: Enceladus, pretty pictures, Cassini, Titan, Saturn's small moons, Saturn's moons

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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