Cassini captures a shadowy Saturn

saturnCredit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Here’s another one of those stunning planetary images that really stops you in your tracks. It’s just been released by the Cassini mission imaging team and shows Saturn (and a few of its moons) as seen by the Cassini spacecraft, just last month. The eery illumination of the rings is due to the very low angle at which sunlight is striking them, combined with sunlight reflected off Saturn’s cloud tops.

Make sure you click the image above to see a much bigger version, to explore it in all its glorious detail, including the subtle pastel coloured bands of Saturn’s upper atmosphere. To give you a sense of scale, Saturn’s diameter (at its equator) is around 120,500 km. So you could fit just over 9 Earths across its disc. For more information on the image and what it shows see the Cassini website here.

Cassini gets go for two more years

It was great to see this news drop in my inbox this morning. Firstly because (in my opinion) the Cassini-Huygens mission is one of the most important planetary missions ever undertaken by humankind but also because it gives me the excuse to put up one of Cassini’s dazzling images on the blog.

The Cassini-Huygens mission has given us views of another planet and its moons like no other spacecraft has and I’m routinely mesmerized by the views it sends back, let alone what its scientific instruments are telling us. It’s incredible to think that in the last six months Cassini has found evidence of: an ocean underneath Encealdus’s surface; a system of rings around Rhea and even organic material in the geysers on Enceladus.

Above is my favourite recent image from Cassini. It shows Saturn when it was 2.6 million km from Cassini. You can also see four of Saturn’s moons – Tethys, Mimas, Janus and Pandora. If you can’t spot them in the above image then have a scan around the stunning full resolution one available here.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute