Cassini Spacecraft Shows Us Views of the Solar System in Natural Color

Cassini Spacecraft blasts off on its mission to Saturn
Cassini Orbiter blasts off on its mission to Saturn

NASA spacecraft shows us the solar system as it would be seen by human eyes

A breakdown of the onboard instrumentation of the Cassini Orbiter
A breakdown of the onboard instrumentation of the Cassini Orbiter

Astronomy news (2013/12/19) – NASA revealed to the world an image of stunning Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday showing the giant planet as our eyes would view it.

The spectacular image, seen below, is a panoramic composed of 141 wide-angle images, showing us a view 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across of Earth, Venus, Mars, and Saturn and its moons and inner ring system. The image includes all of Saturn’s rings, including the E ring, which is the second ring from the outer edge of the planet’s rings (the distance between the Earth and the Moon would easily fit within the width of the E ring). “In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”

A real color image taken of Saturn, with Earth, Mars, Venus and a few moons visible
A real color image of Saturn, with Earth, Mars, Venus and a few moons visible

Join the Wave at Saturn Campaign

This spectacular image of Saturn and its moons and rings is part of NASA’s “Wave at Saturn” campaign, which invited people around the United States and the world to take part in a celebration and party on July 19. NASA asked people to take the time to find Saturn in the sky in their part of the world. To say hello to Cassini and the ringed planet by waving across the solar system and loading any pictures they take onto the Internet to be shared with the world. A fun and social way to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

The image above shows Earth as the bright blue dot located to the lower right of Saturn. Venus isn’t easily seen in this image and is the bright dot located to the upper left of the giant planet, while Mars is the faint red dot to the left and above Venus. Viewers with good eyes should be able to view seven of Saturn’s moons in the image, including amazing Enceladus just to the left. Take a closer look and you should see icy plumes flying out from Enceladus’s south pole region, which provides the fine, grain-sized icy dust that makes up the E ring.

Saturn’s E-Ring is Visible

Saturn’s E ring appears like a halo surrounding the planet and its inner rings, and the best view of this area is provided by light shining from behind the planet. Astronomers studying Saturn and its rings used enhanced computer programs to improve the contrast and color balance of the pictures. This allowed them to pick out detailed data and evidence which made it possible to trace out the full orbits of smaller moons like Anthe and Methone, for the first time in the history of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. “This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn’s diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand,” said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. “The E ring shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus’ gravity.”

The astronomers in charge of Cassini usually don’t try to use the instrument to image Earth very often because an unobstructed view of the sun will damage sensitive equipment on the spacecraft. Astronomers had to wait until the sun was hidden behind Saturn, in relation to Cassini, which occurred on July 19, before taking images of Earth and its moon, and the backlit panoramic picture above. “With a long, intricate dance around the Saturn system, Cassini aims to study the Saturn system from as many angles as possible,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Beyond showing us the beauty of the Ringed Planet, data like these also improve our understanding of the history of the faint rings around Saturn and the way disks around planets form — clues to how our own solar system formed around the sun.”

Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its local region for nine years to date, and NASA has indicated the spacecraft will continue its mission until at least 2017. We will bring you more images of Saturn and data concerning the planet as long as the human journey to Saturn continues.

To view the image, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17172.

A new version of the collage of photos shared by the public, with the Saturn system as the backdrop, is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17679.

More information about Cassini is available at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Watch this YouTube video on Cassini and mission results here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5zcrEze8L4.

Watch this YouTube video on the picture Cassini took of the Earth and Moon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-PlmiKs6Mk.

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