The Cassini space probe has been orbiting Saturn for more than eight years and yet again in October 2012 it took a series of stunning images of this planet. Cassini was positioned in Saturn’s shadow and from that position it was able to take photographs of the dark side of the planet and its rings as previously happened only in 2006.
Saturn shielded the Cassini spacecraft from sunlight, in fact the Sun doesn’t appear in the mosaic composed by NASA with the images taken and released during the recent holidays. In 2006, in the mosaic of the photographs taken at the time the Earth appeared too, in the one created in December 2012 the Earth was hidden by Saturn as well.
On this occasion, the Cassini space probe was closer to the planet and this allowed it to get more details of Saturn’s rings compared to the photographs taken in 2006. This time the mosaic also includes two satellites in the left side: Enceladus under the rings and Tethys a bit far away from the planet and the rings. However, these two satellites are only tiny dots and are difficult to see even in the high-resolution versions of the image.
The final mosaic was obtained by combining more than 60 photographs taken using filters in the infrared, red light and the violet one. For this operation, the Cassini spacecraft has used its wide-angle camera, one of the available cameras used to take pictures of large areas.
The choice to photograph Saturn and its rings in those conditions isn’t just a way to obtain breathtaking images but also allows scientists to see details of both the rings and the planet’s atmosphere that are invisible under normal conditions. Seeing the result, I think I can say that this is one of the cases in which science and art go along.