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Gorgeous New Backlit View of Saturn

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 currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tim McDaniel December 18, 2012, 8:04 PM

    I also saw the previous one, the one that looked silvery. What would the human eye likely see if looking the same way?

  • R. E. Hunter December 18, 2012, 8:15 PM

    Awesome picture! What’s that hazy band along the bottom of the image, outside the rings?

    • Jason Major December 18, 2012, 9:42 PM

      That’s likely the E ring, which is generated by Enceladus’ spray.

  • The Math Skeptic December 18, 2012, 9:04 PM

    I love how you can visibly see how pudgy Saturn is around the middle. I’m sure it’s good for our pear-shaped Earth’s self-esteem as well.

  • Hlafordlaes ?e Liurning Cnicht December 19, 2012, 12:07 AM


  • TheVeganarchist December 19, 2012, 7:02 AM

    far out! cassini is my all time favorite spacecraft, bar none!

  • betterspacenews December 19, 2012, 2:28 AM

    There is more about new planets at ……..keppler11.com

  • bobhudson54 December 19, 2012, 9:04 PM

    Cassini is still returning amazing data with photos. The American people are getting their money’s worth with this project.

  • danangel December 20, 2012, 4:00 AM

    Will this download as a desktop background? Never mind, I figured it out.

  • Prism2Spectrum December 22, 2012, 4:57 PM

    ___________________ Emerald Reflections _______________

    Value in Science was found in Cassini’s path of course to fly.
    Worth of aesthetic kind too, in Saturn’s silhouette, reaches high.

    In emerald reflections of jeweled Ring in a distant night:
    Saturn’s elegant form in time, glows with beauty to delight.

    From geometry’s shadows, a backlit display of splendor;
    From adorned circles of design, a Solar-System wonder!

    Around world bathed in time’s darkness, from Sunlight view eclipsed,
    Translucent halo of Ringlets fair, radiate glory from their midst.

    ______________________________ JRC _________________