Cassini looks down on Saturn’s rings

A distant spaceprobe has captured a stunning new photo of Saturn, the jewel in the solar system. The Cassini probe – a joint Nasa-European mission – photographed the ringed planet from above. It is a view that is impossible to achieve from Earth.

It shows the gas giant looking like a half moon sitting in a spectacular system of rings resembling a stripey dish.

The complete circle of rings, made up of countless rocky fragments, is broken by Saturn’s shadow from the sunlight, cutting across them.

Cassini, an unmanned spacecraft which has been circling Saturn since 2004, had to spent months adjusting its orbit to fly in a higher and higher inclination to obtain the unique view. The distant world, second biggest planet in the solar system, lies around a billion miles from Earth.

Cassini team leader Dr Carolyn Porco, of Boulder, Colorado, said: “Finally, here are the views that we’ve waited years for. Sailing high above Saturn and seeing the rings spread out beneath us like a giant, copper medallion is like exploring an alien world we’ve never seen before. It just doesn’t look like the same place. It’s so utterly breath-taking it almost gives you vertigo.”

The view is a mosaic of 36 separate images taken by Cassini’s wide-angle camera from a distance of around 760,000 miles. Latest Cassini radar results also confirm the existence of lakes of hydrocarbons on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and an island 90 miles wide and 60 miles across in the middle of one of them. Read our earlier story on the lakes of Titan here.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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