The Cassini Solstice mission, currently touring the Saturnian system, passed by the small moon Hyperion over the weekend, soaring as close as 24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) from the tumbling moon’s cratered face.
Hyperion, which measures about 168 miles in diameter, orbits between between sister moons Titan and Iapetus.
“It has an irregular shape and surface appearance, and it rotates chaotically as it tumbles along in orbit, making it impossible to say just exactly what terrain we would image during this flyby,” Carolyn Porco, head of Cassini’s imaging team, wrote in her blog.
First photographed by the twin Voyager probes in 1980 and 1981, the new images of Hyperion are expected to help scientists get a more accurate assessment of the body’s color and analyze how the moon’s reflectivity changes in different lights and under different viewing conditions. That information will help determine what the surface texture is like, notes Porco.
Cassini’s closest encounter with Hyperion was on Sept. 26, 2005, when the spacecraft flew about 310 miles above the moon. Cassini returns to the scene on Sept. 16 for another flyby of Hyperion.
Images: An unprocessed image of Hyperion taken by Cassini on Aug. 25. (top); A mosaic of a crescent Hyperion constructed from three raw images (bottom). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, mosaic edited by Ian O’Neill/Discovery News.