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August 22, 2009

A New Face to Saturn's Rings

Over the last few months, we have been treated to a series of images of long shadows cast across Saturn's rings.  This unique viewing opportunity happens about every 15 years as Saturn approaches equinox.  The low angle of the Sun's rays across the rings has been great for science and, of course, produced some amazing photos.  August 11th was Saturn's equinox, so now the opposite side of the rings is being lit up by the sun.

In this bottom image you can see Titan and the shadow that it's casting on the planet.  Both of these are raw images from Cassini so they're a little rough but still give a sense for Saturn's grandeur.  Click on the images to a larger version.

In my opinion, Cassini has produced more eye candy than any other spacecraft we have put up there.  I hope that Cassini will continue to function for many more years before it is crashed into Saturn.  Imagine what we would see and learn if we sent a Cassini-like mission to each of the outer planets.  I hope the folks at NASA recognize the public interest these images have produced and will try for more missions that will be able to capture the majesty that space has to offer.

All images are credit NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute