High-Contrast Infrared Scan Of Saturn And Its Rings


This high-contrast, colorized mosaic from NASA’s Cassini mission shows an infrared view of the Saturn system, backlit by the sun, from July 19, 2013. Exaggerating the contrast of the data brings out subtleties not initially visible. For example, structures in Saturn’s wispy E ring — made from the icy breath of the moon Enceladus — reveal themselves in this exaggerated view.

The image, made from data obtained by Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, covers a swath of Saturn and its rings about 340,000 miles (540,000 kilometers) across that includes the planet and its rings out to the E ring, Saturn’s second most distant ring. The mosaic covers an area about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) from top to bottom.

When Saturn is blocking the direct light of the sun, scientists can get a better look at the fainter rings. When small particles are lit from behind, they show up like fog in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. Conversely, a ring that is easily seen from Earth because it is densely packed with chunks of bright water ice looks dark in these images because it is so thick that it blocks almost all of the sunlight shining behind it.

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