Close-ups of Phoebe… Not That Phoebe

A few months ago, I wrote to Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader, CICLOPS/Space Science Institute. Helluva title.

Cassini is an amazing satellite mission to Saturn. It will bring pictures unlike those we’ve ever seen before. But, as is so often the case in space, you launch it and then twiddle your thumbs for years – seven years in this case. Saturn is a distance and Cassini isn’t flying in a straight line.

Little did I know that writing to Carolyn would put me on their mailing list. Usually, I’d wince at something like that. But this list has been great fun to read, because I got on at the right time, as Cassini began to approach Saturn.

Last month there was a picture of the planet, filling the entire screen. From this point on Cassini would be too close to Saturn to get more than a partial view. Everything would be closer and in greater detail, including visits to the moons and a transit through Saturn’s ring system.

Then the cameras starting pointing toward Phoebe, a Connecticut sized rock which circles Saturn in the opposite direction from all its other moons! It’s thought that maybe Phoebe was an asteroid or comet or some intergalactic interloper that got caught in Saturn’s magnetic field and was, in essence, captured.

Very impressive and probably worth seven years of twiddling.

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