Saturn and Five of Its Moons In One Gorgeous Picture

(Click image to enlarge. Via.)

Back in 2009, Cassini caught Saturn and five of its moons in one gorgeous line-up. Well done, Cassini.

So what exactly is going on in this picture?

Bad Astronomy:

From left to right that’s Janus, Pandora (in the rings), Enceladus, Mimas, and Rhea. Perspective plays a role here; Rhea is three times bigger than Enceladus, but was much closer to Cassini when this picture was taken, so it looks even bigger.

But the moons themselves are so different from each other! Janus is a lump, too small to have enough gravity  to crush itself  into a sphere. Enceladus is mostly ice, so it appears very bright in this image compared to its rocky siblings. You can just barely see part of the monster crater Herschel peeking out of the dark side of Mimas, while Rhea is peppered with smaller craters. And Pandora orbits inside Saturn’s rings themselves, its meager gravity enough  to entrain the particles in the thin F ring  and keep it in place.

And, of course, the rings themselves, composed of countless tiny ice crystals. Over millions of years, collisions have ground them into pieces ranging in size from barely big enough to see to perhaps 10 meters across, the volume of a roomy two-car garage.