Tuesday NASA released the first natural-color image of Saturn from space where Saturn, its rings, the Earth, Venus and Mars are all visible.
The image, a composite of 141 wide-angle images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, captures a unique view of the distant world as it would be seen by human eyes. The image was made possible by Cassini's powerful cameras and the fortuitous timing of being in position when the Sun's powerful (and camera damaging) rays were obstructed when Saturn came between the probe and the star, creating excellent backlighting for the panoramic mosaic image and allowing stellar views of details in Saturn's rings and throughout the system itself.
The image spans nearly 405,000 miles across and was made over a period of four hours when the planets, moons and stars were all moving relative to Cassini. The image includes all of Saturn's rings out to the E ring, which is the planet's second-outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and the Moon could easily fit inside the span of the E ring, NASA said.
"This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn's diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand," said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. "The E ring in particular shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus' gravity," he said, referring to one of Saturn's 62 moons, seven of which are visible in the mosaic image.
The image above is annotated to show the positions of points of interest. For visibility, the brightness of Earth, Venus, Mars some some noteworthy stars were brightened by a factor of eight and a half relative to Saturn. The brightened version of the mosaic was then brightened again and contrast-enhanced to accommodate for the various ways people will view it, either in print or on a screen.
Click through to NASA's photo journal to read more in-depth about the edits made to the mosaic and what all can be seen in it.
Cassini has explored the Saturn system for more than nine years,and NASA plans to continue the mission through 2017. Sure to come are many more images of Saturn, its rings and moons, as well as other scientific data.
"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot," she said, referring to the highly publicized "Wave at Saturn" photo-op campaign, which invited everyone on Earth to look toward the ringed planet on July 19 and smile and a wave as Cassini took the pictures.
The image below is a mosaic of images sent to NASA from people around the world as they waved at Saturn on July 19.
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