Cassini takes close-up pictures of Saturnian moon's north pole

Yes, the image above shows the cratered surface of a moon, but it's not ours -- it's Saturn's ice-covered satellite, Enceladus. NASA has received the first batch of photos Cassini captured during its flyby close to the celestial body's north pole on October 14th. This is the first time we've seen that part of Enceladus up close, as it always seemed to be engulfed in wintry darkness those previous times the spacecraft passed by. Apparently, NASA expected its surface to be heavily cratered based on the low-res images taken by Voyager decades ago. While it turns out that it is indeed cratered, we now know that it's also covered in cobwebby cracks. "These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus," Cassini imaging team member Paul Helfenstein said, "and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well."

The October 14th flyby was the first in a series of three -- the probe is scheduled to come within 30 miles of the moon's south pole on October 28. The final encounter will be on December 19th, and it might be the last time Cassini flies close to Enceladus, as it has other missions to accomplish within the remaining two years of its life. We've uploaded some of the photos the spacecraft sent back above, but you can see more raw images right here.

[Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute]