Gorgeous New Backlit View of Saturn

by Nancy Atkinson on December 18, 2012

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn’s shadow. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini team has done it again. A new 60-image mosaic of Saturn shows a back-lit view of the giant ringed world in several wavelengths, making Saturn look like a colorful holiday ornament. In October, the Cassini spacecraft was deliberately positioned within Saturn’s shadow, and the cameras were turned toward Saturn and with the Sun behind the planet.

“Of all the many glorious images we have received from Saturn, none are more strikingly unusual than those taken from Saturn’s shadow,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “They unveil a rare splendor seldom seen anywhere else in our solar system.”

“Looking back towards the Sun is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as “high solar phase;” near the center of the target’s shadow is the highest phase possible,” the Cassini team explained. Not only does this produce a stunning image, but it is very scientifically advantageous as well, as it can reveal details about both the rings and atmosphere that cannot be seen in lower solar phase.

This is a rare view, as the last time the Cassini spacecraft was able to take a backlit view of Saturn and the rings was 2006. Also captured in this image are two of Saturn’s moons: Enceladus and Tethys. Both appear on the left side of the planet, below the rings. Enceladus is closer to the rings; Tethys is below and to the left.

The black area at the top of Saturn is the planet’s shadow on the rings.

See more info about this image here, as well as get access to really huge versions so you can enjoy it in its full splendor.


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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