NASA has had its Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn for a long time. NASA has recently released a photograph that Cassini took back in mid October during its 174th orbit around Saturn. The photograph the spacecraft took on October 17, 2012 is below.
This has to be one of the most beautiful space images Cassini has ever taken. The Cassini spacecraft was deliberately positioned within Saturn’s shadow, described as the perfect location to look in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of Saturn’s rings and the dark side of the planet. The sunlight illuminating Saturn’s rings makes them exceptionally visible and you can even see the shadow of the rings on the planet surface.
Scientists say that this position, known as “high solar phase” is scientifically advantageous because it reveals details of both the rings and the atmosphere that can’t be seen in the lower solar phase. According to NASA, the last time Cassini was in position to take an image using this perspective was in September of 2006 and that image was called “In Saturn’s Shadow.” The Earth was in the 2006 image, but the one taken this October shows only Saturn.
The scientists say that the image taken in October was when Cassini was closer to the planet than the image taken in 2006. Being closer to the planet allows more details of Saturn’s rings to be viewed. NASA says that it’s offering up this image in celebration of the holiday season.