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​NASA photos zoom in on Saturn's cracked, cratered moon

After a close flyby of Enceladus Wednesday, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun returning the best images yet of the north pole of Saturn's icy moon.

Though past images taken at lower resolutions suggested a carved out and pockmarked landscape, these new pictures surprised scientists who didn't know whether the features extended this far north.

"The northern regions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters," Paul Helfenstein, a member of the Cassini imaging team at Cornell University, said in a statement. "These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well."

NASA's Cassini spacecraft spied this tight trio of craters as it approached Saturn's icy moon Enceladus for a close flyby on Oct. 14, 2015. The craters, located at high northern latitudes, are sliced through by thin fractures -- part of a network of similar cracks that wrap around the snow-white moon. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The region is punctuated by craters that crowd and overlap each other, showing a history of violent impacts. NASA has nicknamed one collection of three craters, overlapping and stacked in size order, a "Saturnian snowman."

Cassini passed within 1,142 miles of the surface of the underground ocean-bearing moon on October 14. Its next close encounter is planned for Oct. 28, when it will come within just 30 miles of the southern polar region. It will be the craft's deepest dive through the moon's plume of icy spray, giving it a chance to sample the chemistry of the extraterrestrial ocean beneath the ice.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft zoomed by Saturn's icy moon Enceladus on Oct. 14, 2015, capturing this stunning image of the moon's north pole. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 4,000 miles. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
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