Friday, November 22, 2013

Recent Cassini Photos of Saturn

For today's blog posting I decided to check in with the Cassini mission to see what new pictures NASA has taken.

To the Cassini spacecraft's infrared eyes, Saturn's graceful clouds sometimes take on the appearance of an impressionist's painting of the giant planet.  This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 18 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Aug. 12, 2013.  The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 994,000 miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Saturn.

On July 19, 2013 NASA's Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn's shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings -- and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.  With the sun's powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini's onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn's orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance. With both Cassini's wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images, which spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across. In the lower right of the mosaic, in between the bright blue E ring and the faint but defined G ring, is the pale blue dot of our planet, Earth. Look closely and you can see the moon protruding from the Earth's lower right.  
 A swing high above Saturn by NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed this stately view of the golden-hued planet and its main rings. The view is in natural color, as human eyes would have seen it. This mosaic was made from 36 images in three color filters obtained by Cassini's imaging science subsystem on Oct. 10, 2013.  
 Cassini scientists continue their quest to understand the origin and evolution of the newly discovered features observed in Saturn's A ring which have become known as "propellers." In this image, the propeller which scientists have dubbed "Earhart" (at the lower left of the image) has been re-acquired. Scientists hope to understand how the bodies which generate the features -- themselves too small to be seen, yet significantly larger than a typical ring particle -- move around the ring over time. It is hoped that these features may provide insights about how forming planets move around their solar systems.


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