Infinite Minute #9: In the Shadow of Saturn

Uploaded by tdarnell on 27.07.2012

In October 1997 the Cassini Spacecraft launched on a voyage to the second largest planet in
our solar system: Saturn. It arrived in 2004 and immediately began sending back a steady
stream of images and data collected from 12 instruments all designed to look at the planet
in a variety of wavelengths.
It even carried a probe. Named Huygens after the astronomer Christian Huygens who discovered
Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The probe was equipped with six instruments to study the
moon in detail. It landed on Titan's surface on Jan. 14, 2005, and returned spectacular
Meanwhile, the other instruments aboard Cassini continued their scrutiny. Peering into every
possible niche of Saturn as it circled.
Among the scores of images taken by Cassini: this one, taken when the spacecraft drifted
into the shadow of the giant planet shielding it from the Sun.
This is the compilation of 165 images taken by the wide-angle camera during a period of
nearly three hours on September 15, 2006.
By digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared, and clear-filter images and then adjusting
the final image to resemble natural color, astronomers stitched together this ethereal
image from the vantage of the cold darkness of Saturn's shadow.
From this unique perch, some 2.2 million kilometers above the planet, Cassini was able to view
it in a way never seen before.
The microscopic particles that comprise the rings of Saturn flare into brilliance, the
backdrop of bright sunlight causing them to sparkle like dew on wet leaves.
Hidden ring structures containing these particles brighten substantially, revealing detail never
before seen.
The narrowly confined G ring is easily seen here, outside the bright, main rings. And
encircling the entire system is the much more extended E ring. The icy plumes of Enceladus,
whose eruptions supply the E ring particles, betray the moon’s position in the E ring’s
left side edge.
For the 12 hours that the Cassini spacecraft drifted in the shadow of this titanic planet,
humanity was given a view impossible to obtain from Earth. We rely on our space probes, telescopes
and rovers to go places we have not and they provide us with sights of the heavens we cannot
see with our own eyes from the vantage point of our tiny stage on Earth.
We launch our explorers from our tiny grain of sand on the shores of the cosmic ocean
and travel sometimes billions of kilometers to return vistas that provide perspective
and give us unprecedented insight. They travel out there saying, here is what the universe
looks like.
But sometimes, they also provide a look from the other side, showing us what we look like
to the universe.