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Stunning new image of Saturn released

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Nov 14, 2013, 8:00 UTC

Sen—A natural-colour image of Saturn from space, the first in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars, all are visible, has been released by NASA. Taken from space, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, the image shows the view as it would be seen by human eyes.

Cassini's imaging team processed 141 wide-angle images to create the panorama. The image sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn's rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn's second outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would fit comfortably inside the span of the E ring. 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.

"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "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."

Cassini does not attempt many images of Earth because the Sun is so close to our planet that an unobstructed view would damage the spacecraft's sensitive detectors. Cassini team members looked for an opportunity when the Sun would slip behind Saturn from Cassini's point of view. A good opportunity came on July 19. 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 to capture a picture of Earth and its moon, and this multi-image, backlit panorama of the Saturn system.

Saturn collage. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Taken as part of Cassini's "Wave at Saturn" campaign, people for the first time had advance notice a spacecraft was taking their picture from planetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet.

The E ring shines like a halo around Saturn and the inner rings. Because it is so tenuous, it is best seen with light shining from behind it, when the tiny particles are outlined with light.

“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," said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. "The E ring in particular shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus' gravity."

Saturn full annotated image. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

The annotated version of the Saturn system mosaic labels points of interest. Earth is a bright blue dot to the lower right of Saturn. Venus is a bright dot to Saturn’s upper left. Mars also appears, as a faint red dot, above and to the left of Venus. Seven Saturnian moons are visible, including Enceladus on the left side of the image. Zooming into the image reveals the moon and the icy plume emanating from its south pole, supplying fine, powder-sized icy particles that make up the E ring.