Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cassini Beauty • Scaling the Heights

Cassini's recent highly inclined orbits around Saturn have provided the most unusual views of the planet and its rings yet seen.
Surely one of the most gorgeous sights the Solar System has to offer, Saturn sits enveloped by the full splendor of its stately rings.
Taking in the rings in their entirety was the focus of this particular imaging sequence. Therefore, the camera exposure times were just right to capture the dark-side of its rings but longer than that required to properly expose the globe of sunlit Saturn. Consequently, the sunlit half of the planet is overexposed.
Between the blinding light of day and the dark of night, there is a strip of twilight on the globe where colorful details in the atmosphere can be seen. Bright clouds dot the bluish-grey northern polar region here. In the south, the planet’s night side glows golden in reflected light from the rings’ sunlit face.

Magnificent blue and gold Saturn floats obliquely as one of its gravity-bound companions, Dione, hangs in the distance. The darkened rings seem to nearly touch their shadowy reverse images on the planet below.

click pics for full beauty.
To see more extraterrestrial pulchritude

Our robotic emissary, flying high above Saturn, captured this view of an alien copper-colored ring world. The overexposed planet has deliberately been removed to show the unlit rings alone, seen from an elevation 60 degrees, the highest Cassini has yet attained.

Dark and sharply defined ring shadows appear to constrict the flow of color from Saturn’s warmly hued south to the bluish northern latitudes.
Scientists studying Saturn are not yet sure about the precise cause of the color change from north to south. The Voyager spacecraft flybys witnessed a more evenly painted planet in the early 1980s, when Saturn was closer to equinox. However, the bluish color was readily apparent upon Cassini’s approach to the planet in late 2003, when Saturn was just coming out of its northern hemisphere winter. Thus, scientists have speculated that the color is due to seasonal effects on the atmosphere.

The Great Crossing. This life-like movie sequence captures Saturn's rings during a ringplane crossing -- which Cassini makes twice per orbit -- from the spacecraft’s point of view. The movie begins with a view of the sunlit side of the rings. As the spacecraft speeds from south to north, the rings appear to tilt downward and collapse to a thin plane, and then open again to reveal the unilluminated side of the ringplane, where sunlight filters through only dimly.

The striking contrast between the sunlit and unlit sides of the ringplane can now be fully appreciated, thanks to the sense of continuity in time and space provided by this brief clip.

More ravishing beauty .
More information about the Cassini-Huygens mission
Katzed Cassinis

All pictures courtesy Cassini imaging team

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