Compared to some of Saturn’s other moons, Mimas is by no means tiny.
But, in a breathtaking new image from the Cassini spacecraft, the 246-mile-wide moon appears just a barely-detectable speck in an endless black sky.
The stunning photo shows a look over Saturn’s northern hemisphere, revealing the mysterious hexagon-shaped vortex at its north pole – and Mimas can be seen lurking far in the distance.
Mimas is a medium-sized moon, NASA explains.
From the new view, however, it is completely dwarfed by the sheer enormity of Saturn.
‘It is large enough for its own gravity to have made it round, but isn’t one of the really large moons in our solar system, like Titan,’ according to NASA.
‘Even enormous Titan is tiny beside the mighty gas giant Saturn.’
The image was captured by Cassini’s wide-angle camera on March 27, 2017, and shows a view toward the sunlit side of the rings.
While it appears to be an up-close look, the spacecraft took this image from roughly 617,000 miles (993,000 kilometers) away from Saturn.
Cassini captured the image before it began its Grand Finale orbits, according to the space agency.
The view, obtained from 18,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) from Daphnis on January 16, shows the sunlit side of the rings.
During this time, Cassini observed the outer edges of the main rings in unprecedented detail, even revealing a tiny strand of material near Daphnis, which ‘appears to almost have been directly ripped out of the A ring.’
‘Daphnis creates waves in the edges of the gap through its gravitational influence,’ NASA explains.
‘Some clumping of ring particles can be seen in the perturbed edge, similar to what was seen on the edges of the Encke Gap back when Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004.’
Earlier that month, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent back the most detailed look yet at a sprinkling of ‘propeller belts’ in Saturn’s A ring.
The features can be seen as bright specks surrounding the stunning wave pattern in the middle part of the ring.
The craft previously observed propellers when it arrived at Saturn in 2004, but the low resolution of the images made them difficult to interpret.
Now, for the first time, Cassini has spotted propellers of all different sizes, revealing an unprecedented look at these features, which will help to unravel the mysteries of ‘propeller moons.’
According to NASA, propellers are bright, narrow ‘disturbances’ that are produced by the gravity of ‘unseen embedded moonlets.’
The image was captured on April 19th with the spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera, showing belts of propellers in stunning new detail.
With this information, the researchers will be able to derive a ‘particle size distribution’ for propeller moons, or the small moons of mysterious origin thought to exist within Saturn’s rings.
This particular view shows a point roughly 80,000 miles (129,000 kilometers) from Saturn’s center.
The new observation will help to put the earlier images, taken at the time of Cassini’s arrival to Saturn, into context, according to the space agency.
Previously, NASA a glimpse of some of the most ‘intensely bright’ clouds observed yet on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Two weeks into its grand finale dives, the craft has continued to monitor Titan from a distance, revealing a stunning view of wispy methane clouds streaking across the sky.
With summer on the way in Titan’s northern hemisphere, scientists expect cloud activity to spike – and, already the craft has spotted several outbursts.
he latest views obtained by the Cassini spacecraft were captured on May 7 during a non-targeted flyby, at a distance of 316,000 miles (508,000 kilometers) and 311,000 miles (500,000 km).
The images reveal the moon’s hydrocarbon lakes and seas as dark splotches at the top.
And, three bands of bright methane clouds can be seen clearly above the surface.
The brightness is thought to be the result of high-cloud tops, and this outburst is the most extensive observed on Titan since early last year.
The southernmost band sits between 30 and 38 degrees north latitude – a region where, previously, not many clouds have been spotted, according to NASA.
Above this, the fainter middle band sits between 44 and 50 degrees north, where clouds have been spotted more regularly.
A third band can also be seen further north, between 52 and 59 degrees.
Cassini also spotted a few isolated clouds, including some as high up as 63 degrees north, and as far down as 23 degrees north.
The images also reveal a feature called Omacatl Macula just above the equatorial dunelands.
This appears as a darker feature with ‘a streak that points toward the northeast’ according to NASA, and is thought to be a region of dark dust collected into dunes.
The new views of Titan are just the latest in a series of stunning images captured by Cassini as the craft sets out on the beginning of its grand finale.
But, the craft made its last close flyby with Saturn’s massive moon on April 22, and moving forward, it will only observe Titan from a distance.
The space agency recently revealed a breathtaking glimpse at the massive hexagonal storm at Saturn’s North Pole seen in full sunlight by Cassini.
And, just days earlier, a stunning video showed the spacecraft’s view during its first dive into Saturn’s rings last month.
The April 26 plunge into the gap was the first in a projected 22 dives into the area, and was intended to see just how rough the going would be.
Now they know that the dust levels are so surprisingly low, the second dive – which occurred just days later – and most of the remaining 20 dives are able to go ahead without Cassini using the saucer to protect itself.