The first pictures from Cassini's fly-by of Titan have been beamed back to Earth. The pictures reveal glimpses of surface features, with some clearly delineated dark and light areas tantalising the earth-bound scientists.
According to Associated Press reports, NASA's imaging team leader, Carolyn Porco, described the pictures as "tantalising" for those studying the moon. Although nothing is certain yet, she speculated that the bright areas could be icy regions, rising out of a slushy area, "or maybe that's lava that's flowed and covered up some of the terrain and is forming the sharp shoreline-looking boundary".
The craft reached its closest approach to the cloudy moon at 17:44 BST yesterday and its data was received by NASA's deep-space network antenna in Madrid, nearly nine hours later.
These pictures were taken when Cassini was still more than 50,000 miles from Titan. It snapped the moon with its narrow field camera through an infra-red-sensitive filter, centered at 938 nanometers.
This fly-by has not only provided scientists with their best ever views of the moon, but has changed Cassini's orbit of Saturn, shortening its period from four months to 48 days. The craft will make its next close approach to the moon on 13 December, and will release the European-built Huygens probe on Christmas day. ®
Images from the Cassini mission are posted here at the Ciclops (Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory fro Operations) website.