A Striking View Of The Dark Side Of Saturn

The Cassini Orbiter captures a different view of Saturn, in which the planet and its rings seem to vanish into darkness.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab explains exactly what we’re seeing here:

Saturn’s main rings, seen here on their “lit” face, appear much darker than normal. That’s because they tend to scatter light back toward its source — in this case, the Sun.

Usually, when taking images of the rings in geometries like this, exposures times are increased to make the rings more visible. Here, the requirement to not over-expose Saturn’s lit crescent reveals just how dark the rings actually become. Scientists are interested in images in this sunward-facing (“high phase”) geometry because the way that the rings scatter sunlight can tell us much about the ring particles’ physical make-up.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 6 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 12, 2014.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 152 degrees. Image scale is 86 miles (138 kilometers) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

[via Carolyn Porco]