Saturn Shows Its Dark Side in Jaw-Dropping Photo
Saturn's dark side looms large in this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in January 2015. Barely visible in the bottom-left corner is Tethys, one of Saturn's moons.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A spectacular photo of Saturn's night side and its rings plus a glimmer of moon, from the Cassini spacecraft, shows just how dark the planet can get.

The shadow of the gas giant cuts into the view of the rings surrounding the planet. At the planet's pole is Saturn's bizarre hexagon, a storm that has raged above the north pole for more than 30 years.

Hovering in the blackness, in the bottom left of the image, is Saturn's moon Tethys, which was brightened by a factor of three during the editing process to make it more visible. The Cassini spacecraft captured the image on Jan. 15, and NASA released it on its website Sept. 14.

Cassini has been at the ringed giant since 2004, exploring the planet and its moons — particularly Titan, a moon with its own atmosphere and liquid cycle (similar to Earth).

The spacecraft is making several close final flybys of moons this year as it enters the last phase of its mission. The spacecraft will do more close-up observations of the rings before it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere in an intentional death dive in 2017.

Some of Cassini's major scientific observations include watching plumes erupt on the moon Enceladus, finding large hydrocarbon lakes on Titan and watching a new moon being born in Saturn's rings. In 2005, it released a lander called Huygens, which spent a few hours making close-up observations of Titan during the descent and touchdown.

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