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Cassini Will Reach Phoebe Today.

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tiny Moon.
tiny Moon: Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to make its first and only flyby of Saturn's Moon Phoebe on Friday at 2056 UTC (4:56 pm EDT). The tiny Moon is only 220 km (137 miles) across, and Cassini will get within 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles). This picture was taken on June 10 - one day before its closest encounter - when Cassini was still 658,000 kilometres (409,000 miles) away, so the resolution of the image is going to get much much better. Cassini will reach Saturn at the end of the month.

As Cassini sails toward its rendezvous with Phoebe, details on the small, dark Moon are coming into view at a dizzying pace. The images shown here were taken only 13 hours apart on June 10, 2004, just one day prior to closest approach, and show a dramatic increase in detail between these two views. On Phoebe, the spin axis points up and approximately 13 degrees to the left of the boundary between day and night. Phoebe completes one rotation about its spin axis in 9 hours and 16 minutes. We are looking at opposite hemispheres in these two views.

A large crater, roughly 50 km (31 miles) across, is visible in the image on the left. The image on the right shows a body heavily pitted with craters of varying sizes, including very large ones, and displaying a substantial amount of variation in surface brightness. Features that appear to be cliffs may in fact be the boundaries between large craters. Despite its exaggerated topography, Phoebe is more round than irregular in shape.

Left to right, the two views were obtained at a phase, or Sun-Phoebe-spacecraft, angle of 87 degrees, and from distances ranging from 956,000 kilometers (594,000 miles) to 658,000 kilometers (409,000 miles). The image scale ranges from 5.7 to 3.9 kilometers (3.5 to 2.4 miles) per pixel. To aid visibility, the images were magnified three times via linear interpolation; no contrast enhancement was performed.

Phoebe is approximately 220 kilometers (137 miles) wide. Its many secrets await as Cassini draws close to its only flyby with this mysterious outer Moon of Saturn at 1:56 pm PDT on June 11, 2004.

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 Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and the Cassini imaging team home page, http://ciclops.org.

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