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Saturn as you’ve NEVER seen it before.
As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is diving into its final months, we take a look at some of the most fascinating images the spacecraft took during its long mission around Saturn.
Cassini has helped NASA find out a lot about Saturn. Since the spacecraft enter orbit around Saturn in mid-2004, experts learned a lot about Saturn, its moons, and breathtaking rings.
While all of the images sent back by Cassini are beyond stunning, in this article we selected 11 of the images we thought were the most memorable. There are thousands of images.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.
This image (below) was taken in 2016 and shows Saturn’s northern hemisphere as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice in May 2017. Saturn’s year is nearly 30 Earth years long, and during its long time there, Cassini has observed winter and spring in the north, and summer and fall in the south.
Cassini scanned across the planet and its rings on April 25, 2016, capturing three sets of red, green and blue images to cover this entire scene showing the planet and the main rings.
Ices and Shadows: Saturn’s moon Tethys appears to float between two sets of rings in this view from Cassini, but it’s just a trick of geometry. The rings, which are seen nearly edge-on, are the dark bands above Tethys, while their curving shadows paint the planet at the bottom of the image.
Saturn, its rings, and moons: One big Family.
The Cassini spacecraft has helped learn a lot about Saturn, its moons and the beautiful rings that encircle the planet. Here in this image, we can see Pan floating in between Saturn’s rings. Pan and moons like it have profound effects on Saturn’s rings. The effects can range from clearing gaps, to creating new ringlets, to raising vertical waves that rise above and below the ring plane. All of these effects, produced by gravity, are seen in this image.
This image here is one of my favorite images beamed back by the Cassini spacecraft. The Great Divide: It’s difficult to get a sense of scale when viewing Saturn’s rings, but the Cassini Division (seen here between the bright B ring and dimmer A ring) is almost as wide as the planet Mercury. The 2,980-mile-wide (4,800-kilometer-wide) division in Saturn’s rings is thought to be caused by the moon Mimas. Particles within the division orbit Saturn almost exactly twice for every time that Mimas orbits, leading to a build-up of gravitational nudges from the moon. These repeated gravitational interactions sculpt the outer edge of the B ring and keep its particles from drifting into the Cassini Division.
This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 4 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Jan. 28, 2016.
Saturn’s main rings, along with its and moons, are much brighter than most stars. As a result, much shorter exposure times (10 milliseconds, in this case) are required to produce an image and not saturate the detectors of the imaging cameras on Cassini. A longer exposure would be required to capture the stars as well.
Saturns’s small mystery. Something recently crashed into Saturn’s F ring. Scientists aren’t sure what it was but it disrupted the ring and the Cassini spacecraft managed to snap an image of it. As noted by NASA, this feature was mostly likely not caused by Pandora (50 miles or 81 kilometers across) which lurks nearby, at lower right. More likely, it was created by the interaction of a small object embedded in the ring itself and material in the core of the ring. Scientists sometimes refer to these features as “jets.”
The largest photobomb EVER. You are in this image. In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. This is only the third time ever that Earth has been imaged from the outer solar system.
There are a few images as beautiful as this one where we can appreciate softly hued Saturn embraced by the shadows of its stately rings. The images were obtained with the Cassini wide-angle camera from a distance of approximately 999,000 kilometers (621,000 miles) from Saturn on May 4, 2005, as the spacecraft cruised a few degrees above the ring plane. The image scale is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) per pixel on Saturn.
But even before the Cassini spacecraft made its way to Saturn it captured stunning images from far, far away. This is one of those images, stunning right? Cassini passed close by Saturn’s small moon Phoebe on June 23, 2004.
This view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft features a blue planet, but unlike the view from July 19, 2013, that featured Earth, this blue orb is Uranus, imaged by Cassini for the first time. Image released May 1, 2014.
If you got time on your hand, check out 385,287 images beamed back by the Cassini spacecraft HERE.
Here’s a must watch video:
Featured image: An artist’s rendition of what Cassini’s crash into Saturn will look like.