A swing high above Saturn by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed this stately view of the golden-hued planet and its main rings. The view is in natural color, as human eyes would have seen it. This mosaic was made from 36 images in three color filters obtained by Cassini’s imaging science subsystem on Oct. 10, 2013. The observation and resulting image mosaic were planned as one of three images for Cassini’s 2013 Scientist for a Day essay contest.
Saturn sports differently colored bands of weather in this image. For instance, a bright, narrow wave of clouds around 42 degrees north latitude appears to be some of the turbulent aftermath of a giant storm that reached its violent peak in early 2011. The mysterious six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon is visible around Saturn’s north pole.
When Cassini arrived in 2004, more of the northern hemisphere sported a bluish hue and it was northern winter. The golden tones dominated the southern hemisphere, where it was southern summer. But as the seasons have turned and northern spring is in full swing, the colors have begun to change in each hemisphere as well. Golden tones have started to dominate in the northern hemisphere and the bluish color in the north is now confined to a tighter circle around the north pole. The southern hemisphere has started getting bluer, too.
The rings shown here include Saturn’s main rings. The rings known as the C, B and A rings — listed here in order of closeness to Saturn — are easily seen. The F ring is also there, but not easily seen without enhancing the contrast of the image. (Rings were named in order of their discovery rather than their position around Saturn.) The rings also cast a shadow on Saturn at the limb of the planet in the lower right quadrant.
Cassini is currently in a set of tilted orbits known as “inclined orbits” that allow it to swing up over the north pole and below the south pole. Much of Cassini’s time is spent close to the equatorial plane, where most of Saturn’s rings and moons are located.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team consists of scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Cornell