NASA reveals Cassini probe's last glimpse of Saturn's icy moon Dione

Ringed planet grants sunlight for souvenir shots.

Parting shot of Dione's icy crescent.

NASA has released images from the Cassini probe's last fly-by of Saturn's moon Dione.

The August 17 encounter captured Dione's icy pockmarked landscape from a distance of 474 kilometres above the moon's surface. Cassini came within 100km of Dione in December 2011.

The images offer another look at the haunting moon and were captured thanks in part to sunlight reflected from the gas giant, which helped illuminate some of the dramatic terrain.

It is a product of opportunity, not mission, however; NASA aimed to examine gravity science, and had not steered the ship for a photography run.

Rather Cassini scientists will run their the gravity science experiment testing the magnetosphere and plasma science instruments over the coming months. It is hoped the work will shed new light on Dione's interior structure and the processes influencing its surface.

Dione

Dione with Saturn and rings in rear

"I am moved, as I know everyone else is, looking at these exquisite images of Dione's surface and crescent, and knowing that they are the last we will see of this far-off world for a very long time to come," says Cassini imaging boffin Carolyn Porco at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

"Right down to the last, Cassini has faithfully delivered another extraordinary set of riches. How lucky we have been."

Cassini will run three flybys for Saturn's geologically active moon Enceladus on October 14 and 28, then on December 19th. The first flyby should be a treat, with the ship set to pass a mere 49 kilometres above surface and through the ice sprays, further aiding geological investigations.

An oblique view of Dione

In coming months Cassini will also pass through the ring world's smaller moons, including Daphnis, Telesto, Epimetheus, and Aegaeon, before the "Grand Finale" where the craft will become a celestial flipper and dive through the pebbled world's rings.

Cassini arrived at the ringed planet in 2004 after launching in 1997. Its colo Huygens lander plonked down on Saturn's moon Titan in 2005.

Full resolution images are available at NASA

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