The movement of waves in Saturn's rings offers clues to activity and conditions within the planet. This natural-color view of Saturn was taken from 764,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) away.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
The Cassini spacecraft has captured a fresh view of Saturn from high above the planet's gorgeous rings and also provided a stunning video of its travels through the ring plane.
The robotic probe has climbed to higher and higher inclinations over the past several months, providing looks at the planet and rings that scientists have eagerly awaited.
"Finally, here are the views that we've waited years for," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "Sailing high above Saturn and seeing the rings spread out beneath us like a giant, copper medallion is like exploring an alien world we've never seen before. It just doesn't look like the same place. It's so utterly breath-taking, it almost gives you vertigo."
The new photograph shows the rings from a 40-degree angle on high.
The video shows the rings as they appeared to Cassini while it sped from south to north, rapidly crossing the ring plane. When the rings are seen edge-on in the video, they disappear.
Saturn's rings are thought to have been created about 100 million years ago when a comet or asteroid struck a moon orbiting the giant planet. They are 150,000 miles wide and just a tens of yards thick. They are made mostly of water ice, which makes them shimmer with reflected sunlight, but they contain some mud, too.
Cassini's highly inclined orbits around Saturn will be progressively lowered so that, by late June-three years after entering orbit-the spacecraft will once more be orbiting in the ring plane.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.
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