NASA's Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn, has sent back a particularly stunning photo of the ringed planet. NASA's Saturn photo was taken when Cassini was in the shadow of the planet, with its camera pointing at the sun.
NASA showed off the Saturn photo in a announcement Tuesday. On its website, NASA described how the Cassini was able to take the striking image. Cassini has spent the last eight years orbiting around Saturn, capturing photos of the giant planet, its moons as well as its rings.
The Saturn photo, or more accurately a mosaic of 60 images shot from different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, was taken by Cassini on Oct. 17. The mosaic was then processed to look more like a photo with normal color.
In its eight years circling Saturn, the photo was taken on the probe's 174th orbit around the planet, notes NASA. Cassini was located within Saturn's shadow which, according to NASA, allowed it “to look in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet.”
Cassini's angle allowed the spacecraft to take a photo of Saturn during “high solar phase,” which can provide a detailed glimpse at the rings and upper atmosphere.
The latest Saturn photo is reminiscent of the last taken from within Saturn's shadow, a 2006 image captured by Cassini. In that photo, Cassini was further away from the planet and even captured Earth as a pale blue dot within the rings of Saturn, notes NASA. The latest photo taken by Cassini is much closer, providing a more detailed look at the rings.
Also in the photo are two of Saturn's moons. Enceladus and Tethys can be seen in the photo, to the left of Saturn's rings. Enceladus is closer to the rings while Tethys is farther away and to the left.
On the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations website, Cassini Imaging Team Leader Carolyn Porco dedicated the photo as a holiday gift to planet Earth.
“We fervently hope it serves as a reminder that we humans, though troubled and warlike, are also the dreamers, thinkers, and explorers inhabiting one achingly beautiful planet, yearning for the sublime, and capable of the magnificent. We hope it reminds you to protect our planet with all your might and cherish the life it so naturally sustains,” she said.