Credit: NASA, ESA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)
Saturn is ready for her close-up. This image, taken by the Hubble Space telescope in 2004, offers a stunning view of the planet’s rings. Saturn boasts 9 continuous main rings as well as three fragmentary arcs; they’re made mostly of ice with some dust and rock mixed in. In this image, the main body of the planet casts a dark shadow on the rings.
No team of reindeer was necessary for these holiday treats from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. A beam of radio signals, from clear across the solar system, has delivered a Christmas package of glorious images of Saturn’s largest, most colorful ornament, Titan, and other icy baubles in orbit around this splendid planet. These treats are being featured today in a public release from the mission’s imaging team.
Imaged Above In Order From Left to Right, Up, Down:
Titan and Dione — Saturn’s third-largest moon, Dione, can be seen through the haze of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Orange and Blue Hazes — These views from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft look toward the south polar region of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and show a depression within the moon’s orange and blue haze layers near the south pole.
True Colors, Deceptive Sizes — Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, appears deceptively small paired here with Dione, Saturn’s third-largest moon, in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Haze Before Ice — Saturn’s moon Tethys, with its stark white icy surface, peeps out from behind the larger, hazy, colorful Titan in this view of the two moons obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Saturn’s rings lie between the two.
Titan Upfront — The colorful globe of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, passes in front of the planet and its rings in this true color snapshot from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Saturn’s moon Titan is the only moon in our solar system known to possess an atmosphere of any significance.
Ten times thicker than Earth’s, Titan’s atmosphere extends nearly 370 miles (600 km) above its frigid surface. It’s a literal chemical factory, where nitrogen and methane are zapped by the sun’s ultraviolet rays and transformed into organic molecules, some of which descend to the moon’s surface while others rise up above the clouds, creating a bluish high-level haze of hydrocarbons.
Titan’s atmosphere forms an opaque orange shroud that covers it and hides many of its surface features from view, keeping much of its details a mystery until the arrival of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft in 2004.
Titan has an atmosphere that is impenetrable to visible light. So the Cassini orbiter has been snapping images of the moon using infrared imagery for the past several years. After many, many passes it finally captured enough to make the above composite of Titan’s surface features.
Dunes, mountains, lakes of bubbling methane … it’s all there. Sounds peachy!
What’s that? You’re more into video composites? Then check it:
In 2009, the Cassini spacecraft revealed alternating light and dark regions of Saturn’s rings. This animation shows how this corrugated pattern can arise from the natural wobble of the tilted orbits of Saturn’s rings. NASA scientists believe the rings suddenly tilted in the 1980’s, after debris crashed into them.