NASA's Cassini spacecraft completed its double flyby this week, swinging by Saturn's moons Titan and Dione with no maneuver in between. The spacecraft has beamed back stunning raw images of fractured terrain and craters big and small on Dione, a moon that had only been visited once before by Cassini.
The Titan flyby took place April 5, and the Dione flyby took place April 7 in the UTC time zone, and April 6 Pacific time. During the Titan flyby, an unexpected autonomous reset occurred and Cassini obtained fewer images of Titan than expected. But the cameras were reset before reaching Dione, which was the primary target on this double flyby.
Scientists are poring over data from Dione to discern whether the moon could be a source of charged particles to the environment around Saturn and material to one of its rings. They are also trying to understand the history of dark material found on Dione.
A fortuitous alignment of these moons allowed Cassini to attempt this doubleheader. Cassini had made three previous double flybys and another two are planned in the years ahead. The mission is nearing the end of its first extension, known as the Equinox Mission. It will begin its second mission extension, known as the Solstice Mission, in October 2010.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
More information about the Titan flyby, dubbed "T67," is available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/flybys/titan20100405/.
More information about the Dione flyby, dubbed "D2," is available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/flybys/dione20100407/.