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On This Day in Space! Dec. 31, 2004: Cassini Spacecraft Flies by Saturn Moon Iapetus

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Welcome to "On This Day ... in Space!" where we peer back in our archives to find historic moments in spaceflight and astronomy. So enjoy a blast from the past with Space.com's Hanneke Weitering to look back at what happened on this day in space!


On Dec. 31, 2004, NASA's Cassini spacecraft flew by Iapetus, Saturn’s third largest moon.

Iapetus was discovered by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini in 1671. The Cassini spacecraft flew by the moon multiple times while it was in orbit around Saturn. This was the first close flyby of Iapetus, and Cassini came within 77,000 miles of its surface.

NASA's Deep Space Network received the first data from Cassini's flyby on New Year's Eve at 11:47 p.m. Pacific Time. Cassini captured incredible, up-close images of Iapetus.

The images revealed that Iapetus kind of looks like a yin-yang symbol. One hemisphere is as dark as coal, but the other is much brighter. This earned it the nickname "the yin-yang moon."   Cassini also discovered a huge ridge that runs along the equator, which earned it a second nickname: the "walnut moon."

Catch up on our entire "On This Day In Space" series on YouTube with this playlist.


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