Phoebe's surface gives scientists clues to its origin
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE
Posted: June 14, 2004
Images collected during Cassini's close flyby of Saturn's moon, Phoebe, have yielded strong evidence that the tiny object may contain ice-rich material, overlain with a thin layer of darker material perhaps 300 to 500 meters (980 to 1,600 feet) thick.
The surface of Phoebe is also heavily potholed with large and small craters. Images reveal bright streaks in the ramparts of the largest craters, bright rays which emanate from smaller craters, and uninterrupted grooves across the face of the body.
"The imaging team is in hot debate at the moment on the interpretations of our findings," said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "Based on our images, some of us are leaning towards the view that has been promoted recently, that Phoebe is probably ice-rich and may be an object originating in the outer solar system, more related to comets and Kuiper Belt objects than to asteroids."
In ascertaining Phoebe's origin, imaging scientists are noting important differences between the surface of Phoebe and that of rocky asteroids which have been seen at comparable resolution. "Asteroids seen up close, like Ida, Mathilde, and Eros, and the small martian satellites do not have the bright 'speckling' associated with the small craters that are seen on Phoebe," said Dr. Peter Thomas, an imaging team member from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
The landforms observed in the highest resolution images also contain clues to the internal structure of Phoebe. Dr. Alfred McEwen, an imaging team member from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said, "Phoebe is a world of dramatic landforms, with craters everywhere, landslides, and linear structures such as grooves, ridges, and chains of pits. These are clues to the internal properties of Phoebe, which we'll be looking at very closely in order to understand Phoebe's origin and evolution."
"I think these images are showing us an ancient remnant of the bodies that formed over four billion years ago in the outer reaches of the solar system," said Dr. Torrence Johnson, an imaging team member from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Battered and beat-up as it is, it is still giving us clues to its origin and history."
Phoebe may be an icy interloper from the distant outer solar system which found itself captured by giant Saturn in its earliest, formative years. Final conclusions on Phoebe's origins await a combination of the results on Phoebe's surface structures, mass and composition gathered from all 11 instruments, which collected data during the flyby on June 11, 2004.
"This has been an impressive whirlwind flyby and it's only a curtain raiser on the events about to begin," said Porco.
The slumping of material might have occurred by a small projectile punching into the steep slope of the wall of a pre-existing larger crater. Another possibility is that the material collapsed when triggered by another impact elsewhere on Phoebe. Note that the bright, exposed areas of ice are not very uniform along the wall. Small craters are exposing bright material on the hummocky floor of the larger crater.
Elsewhere on this image, there are local areas of outcropping along the larger crater wall where denser, more resistant material is located. Whether these outcrops are large blocks being exhumed by landslides or actual 'bedrock' is not currently understood.
The crater on the left, with most of the bright streamers, is about 45 kilometers (28 miles) in diameter, front to back as viewed. The larger depression in which the crater sits is on the order of 100 kilometers (62 miles) across. The slopes from the rim down to the hummocky floor are approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) long; many of the bright streamers on the crater wall are on the order of 10 kilometers (6 miles) long. A future project for Cassini image scientists will be to work out the chronology of slumping events in this scene.
This image was obtained at a phase, or Sun-Phoebe-spacecraft, angle of 78 degrees, and from a distance of 11,918 kilometers (7,407 miles). The image scale is approximately 70 meters (230 feet) per pixel. No enhancement was performed on this image.
This high-resolution image was obtained at a phase, or Sun-Phoebe-spacecraft, angle of 30.7 degrees, and from a distance of approximately 2,365 kilometers (1,470 miles). The image scale is approximately 14 meters (46 feet) per pixel. The image was high-pass filtered to bring out small scale features and then enhanced in contrast.