NASA has revealed the incredible image, taken by the Cassini probe before it crashed into Saturn's atmosphere in a 'death dive'. Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) is back-lit in this image, as is apparent by the thin crescent.
NASA's Cassini has eventually fallen silent after making a plunge into Saturn. The spacecraft made two decades of space sojourn covering eight billion kilometres. Cassini in its closest approach went so far where no other spacecraft has ever gone before and during that period it made a video's and has released interesting images which was constantly released by NASA.
But NASA has now revealed an image of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, with the sun lighting up a bright crescent limb. The image was captured on 29 March 2017, at a distance of 180,000 kilometers from the moon.
'The brightly lit limb of a crescent Enceladus looks ethereal against the blackness of space,' NASA says.
'The rest of the moon, lit by light reflected from Saturn, presents a ghostly appearance.'
Saturn's moon Enceladus(313 miles or 504 kilometers across) is back-lit in this image.
However, the Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft (or phase) angle, at 141 degrees, makes it very hard to make the moon's famous plumes easily visible.
While making its first plunge through Saturn’s rings, one of the cameras of the spacecraft captured a series of pictures, including the closest-ever images of the gas giant.
"Cassini's own discoveries were its demise," Earl Maize, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who manages the Cassini mission, previously told reporters . "We cannot risk inadvertent contact with that pristine body."
"[The main] reason for this ending to the Cassini mission is something that NASA is very worried about – contamination of our life forms on planets and moons that may harbor other forms of life," says Nicholas Suntzeff, a professor of Observational Astronomy at Texas A&M University, tells the Monitor via email.
"The moons of Saturn – Enceladus and Titan – could have life or complex organic molecules that are the soup out of which life forms."
Look at Cassini's journey here:
# October 15, 1997:
The spacecraft launched on October 15, 1997, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The craft carried the Cassini orbiter, which would eventually be placed into Saturn’s orbit, and the Huygens probe, destined for Titan.
# Venus flybys, 1998-1999:
Cassini for the first time passed Venus on April 25, 1998. It came within 176 miles of the surface of Venus and used the planet’s gravity to accelerate the spacecraft to a speed of around four miles per second. The following year, on 24 June, the spacecraft passed Venus for a second time to get another gravity boost.
# Cassini traveled through the asteroid belt, 1999-2001:
Cassini traveled through the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter over the next two years. During this period of time, Scientists were able to use instruments on board to study this region of space before the spacecraft moved on to Jupiter, passing by on December 30, 2000. While in this part of space, Cassini joined up with the Galileo spacecraft to give a new view of the largest planet in the solar system.
# Cassini's arrival at Saturn, 2004:
It was in 2004 that Cassini started approaching Saturn and started exploring Saturn’s moons over several months. Only after this, Cassini successfully discovered two new moons, Methone and Pallene, in May, before making its first flyby of Phoebe in June. The spacecraft was inserted into Saturn’s orbit on July 1.
# Cassini's Huygens departure for Titan, 2004:
The Huygens probe was detached from Cassini on December 23, beginning a three-week descent to the surface of Titan. It successfully landed on January 14, 2005. Its battery lasted for 72 minutes after landing and marks the first and only landing on a moon or planet in the outer solar system. Data returned provided an unprecedented view into the moon’s meteorology and geology.
# Cassini flybys, 2005-2012:
After seven years orbiting Saturn, Cassini made multiple flybys of the planet and its moons. During this period of time, it saw liquid water on Enceladus, discovered new rings round the planet and found lakes on Titan. After completing its primary mission in May 2008, the spacecraft continued its next phase of exploration. In February 2010, the mission was extended to 2017.
# Cassini's Goodbyes, 2015-2016:
Cassini began making its final flybys of Saturn’s moons in 2015 and 2016. During Cassini's last trips, it saw jets of ice and dust coming from Enceladus, charted Titan’s tallest peaks and found and dicovered that it was pure liquid methane. It completed its last flyby of Titan in April in 2017.
Cassini's journey comes to an end on September 15, 2017So far, the probe has made 22 ring crossings. On Sep 15, it made one final orbit, plunge into the Saturnian atmosphere, and burst into light as an artificial meteor.
"Cassini has got to be put safely away," Maize previously said. The decision was made at the recommendation of NASA's planetary protection office .