Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NASA Cassini Image: Saturn, Earth Shine

The Cassini spacecraft's onboard cameras acquired a panoramic mosaic of Saturn that allows scientists to see details in the rings as they are backlit by the sun. 

This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

A NASA spacecraft has revealed an unprecedented view of Saturn from space, showing the entire gas giant backlit by the sun with several of its moons and all but one of its rings, as Earth, Venus and Mars all appear as pinpricks light in the background.

The spectacular image, unveiled Tuesday (Nov. 12), is actually a mosaic of 141 wide-angle images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft taken in natural colour, which mimics how human eyes might see the ringed planet.

Stretching 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across, the panorama captures all of Saturn's rings up to the ethereal E ring, the second outermost one.

The pictures that make up the mosaic were snapped on July 19, 2013 — the same day that Cassini took advantage of a rare opportunity to photograph Earth without interference from the sun, which was totally eclipsed by Saturn at the time.

From its far-flung perch millions of miles away, Cassini captured amazing portraits of Earth as a pale blue dot as thousands of people on the ground waved in honour of the global picture day.

Carolyn Porco
"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," Carolyn Porco, who leads Cassini's imaging team at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., said of the new image in a statement from NASA.

"And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot."

Earth can be spotted as a blue dot to the lower right of Saturn, while Venus shines to the upper left of the gas giant. Mars, visible as a faint red dot, sits above and to the left of Venus.

Beyond inspiring wonder, this new view of Saturn also promises to help scientists study the planet's rings, which are best observed when light shines behind them, Cassini researchers say.

“This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn's diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand," Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow, said in a statement.

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