NASA/JPL’s Saturn probe Cassini has just completed a close flyby of Saturn’s oddly shaped black and white moon, Iapetus. I’ve been watching the raw image stream for photos of the moon, and there’s an especially striking sequence of wide angle shots from a close pass over the equatorial ridge, a giant mountain range which gives Iapetus its distinctive “walnut” shape. I pasted the ridge sequence images into ImageReady last night, and was able to make a simple flyover GIF animation: (Click to see it larger.)
Just for context, the highest of those mountains are up to 13 km high (8 miles or 42,650 feet in imperials), 1.5 times the height of Mt Everest on Earth.
More info from this JPL press release, and I note belatedly that Emily of the Planetary Society weblog also animated the flyover, beating me to the upload punch by a night. She has also stitched photos of the transition from light to dark on Iapetus.
Also posted to Slashdot.
Update: On a suggestion from someone in that Slashdot thread, I submitted this animation to NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day, and it got posted as a link below the 3D stereogram, which is pretty cool. More here, plus LOLIAPETUS.