Later this year, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will begin the most audacious part of its mission. NASA describes the mission as “like a whole new mission.” Scientists are calling it the Grand Finale as the spacecraft dives between Saturn and its innermost ring 22 times.
In the meantime, Cassini continues to amaze us with spectacular images of Saturn and its moons. The latest shows Saturn’s moon Dione appearing to be sliced in two by Saturn’s rings.
This image was captured on Christmas Day and shows Cassini, Dione and the rings on the same plane. We’re looking at the sunlit portion of the rings just 0.02 degrees above the ring plane.
After seeing this image, I couldn’t help but go dig around for other edge-on views of Saturn and its moons. Here are my favorites.
Dione appears just above Saturn’s rings in this 2005 image. You can see the curving shadows of C ring and part of B ring against Saturn’s northern latitudes.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, sits in front of the rings. Once again, you can see the shadows cast by the rings on Saturn’s surface.
This is probably my favorite edge-on image of Saturn. It shows just how thin the planet’s rings are. Plus, how can you not love the shadows casted by the rings near the top. Here’s a fantastic article from Phil Plait talking about how thin the rings are (only 32 feet in some spots!) and how they formed this way.
I wrote about this one recently. You can see the stark contrast between Tethys (the round one) and Janus (looks more like an asteroid). It’s a perfect example about how size really does matter. At least, in order for a moon to be round.
Not quite as edge-on as the other images, but there are three moons in this frame. Enceladus (above the rings) and Rhea (below the rings) are easy to spot. But, what about Atlas? Look above and to the left of Rhea. See the little bump on the bottom of the ring? That’s 19 mile across Atlas.
Here’s a crescent Tethys hanging out beneath Saturn’s rings.
Dione passing in front of Saturn, or transiting. Scientists use these same events to discover distant exoplanets far outside our solar system.
This unusual image of Saturn was captured using an infrared filter. Scientists use these images to figure out where clouds are in the planet’s atmosphere. For this image, a filter that is sensitive to methane was used. There’s not a ton of methane in Saturn’s atmosphere, but there’s enough to help reveal clouds. The darker areas show clouds that are lower in the atmosphere (under more methane). The brighter areas show higher altitude clouds.
Mimas (below) and Dione (above) are dwarfed by the ringed planet. Cassini was looking toward the unilluminated side of the rings in this May 2015 image.
Dione and Enceladus.
Saturn’s huge ring systems casts even larger shadows on its surface.
I’m changing it up for the last two images. These aren’t edge-on, but in my opinion, they are two of the best images captured by Cassini.
Dubbed ‘The Day The Earth Smiled.’ Cassini was in Saturn’s shadow when it took this image of seven of its moons, inner rings and us!
You’ve seen about a dozen images of Saturn edge-on, but what about the opposite. Gordan Ugarkovic put together 36 shots of Saturn to create this stunning mosaic of Cassini looking ‘down’ on the planet.
Do you have a favorite picture of Saturn? Toss a link in the comments.