Washington, May 21 : Scientists working with images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft of Saturn's icy, airless moons have carefully crafted detailed maps that one day may guide future explorers across the surfaces of these remote bodies.
The Cassini Imaging Team has released a total of three atlases of Saturn's icy satellites, with the latest charting the fractured 1,125-kilometer- (703-mile-) wide moon Dione.
"We used the 449 existing high-resolution Cassini images of Dione to produce a single carefully controlled global map," explained Dr. Thomas Roatsch, a planetary scientist from the Institute of Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin.
"We then cut the map into 15 pieces, with each piece forming a section of the atlas," he added.
Each of the 15 pieces is produced at a scale of 1:1,000,000: that is, where 1 inch on the map is one million inches, or almost 16 miles, on the surface of Dione.
Along with the 15 smaller maps, the single global map created by Roatsch and the DLR cartographers has also been released. This map adds to Cassini's growing collection of similar views of Saturn's icy denizens.
The team has previously released atlases of geologically active Enceladus and the obscure outer moon Phoebe.
Atlases of other moons will be released as Cassini's mission continues, with Iapetus and Tethys next in line. All atlases are simultaneously released to the public and to the scientific community via the NASA Planetary Data System (PDS).
It is important for planetary scientists to have accurate maps of the worlds they study, and the Cassini atlases are a major step toward characterizing the large icy satellites of Saturn.
They will serve as the basis for geologic interpretations, estimates of the ages of surface regions, and deciphering the processes that formed the moons' landscapes.
But most importantly, with their accurate reckoning in latitude and longitude, these maps allow scientists to easily find, and refer to, features of interest on the moons' surfaces.
"These maps will help the Team members in their scientific and mission planning efforts a great deal, and will be a reliable reference for future applications by the planetary science community at large," said Cassini imaging team member Dr. Gerhard Neukum.
"Cassini's exploration of these bodies leaves a glorious and important legacy for generations to come," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader and director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
"Both robotic and human travelers to Saturn in the future will surely rely on this growing collection of maps and their derivatives to find their way among the moons of Saturn," she added.