Splendorous Saturn As Seldom Seen – Cassini Wows Again!

Saturn photographed in enhanced color while the Cassini spacecraft was in planet’s shadow. The moons Tethys (lower left) and Enceladus (right of Tethys) are also visible. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA just released a brand new picture of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it sped through the planet’s shadow. The photo combines 60 images taken in the violet, visible and infrared (heat) portions of the spectrum. The last time the probe was at a sufficient distance from the planet and had the time to piece together a similar view was September 2006.

What a spectacle! Views like this are impossible from Earth since Saturn, located far beyond Mars and Jupiter, never passes between the sun and Earth. These photos were obtained on Oct. 21, 2012 from a distance of 500,000 miles with the sun behind Saturn.

Saturn in September 2006. Earth was visible at the time just above the ring plane. In the new photo, Earth is hidden by Saturn’s disk. The large outer E-ring is made of ice particles supplied by icy plumes erupting from the moon Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

I don’t know why the mission team waited so long! We love this stuff. Lit from behind as it were, Saturn reveals details of its rings and atmosphere not discernible in more typical, front-lit images. Tiny ice particles in the rings flare into light from this perspective much like seeing someone’s breath against the sun on a cold day. Be sure to click on each picture to view the high resolution versions and revel in the glory.

8 Responses

  1. MBZ

    Could any sparkly Christmas tree bauble be more dazzling?
    What a spectacular gift. Goosebumps. Thanks Magi Bob.

        1. astrobob

          AH, now I see your question. The bright ring plane through the middle and bottom part of the photo is behind the ball of the planet. The ring plane at top is in the foreground. Saturn, which is backlit from behind and slightly below, is casting its shadow onto the portion of the ring plane (top) that cuts across the foreground. At least that’s how I see it. Does that make sense?

          1. MBZ

            Exactly how I see it. Thanks!
            Wasn’t quite sure about the foreground ring plane shadow, but this makes sense.
            Stunning photo.

  2. Chuck Cox

    Definitely spectacular! Thank you for posting this! The 2006 image with Earth ID’d as “speck-tacular” by comparison with Saturn—coupled with what we know about the hostility of the solar system out there where Saturn dwells—brings to mind the comment of Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman, culminating with: “a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” Saturn is spectacular, but this humble blue marble—for all its insanity and mayhem—is still our hospitable home!

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