Saturn Probe Beams Home Stunning Views
Saturn's northern hemisphere is seen here against its nested rings in this view from Cassini.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The Saturn probe Cassini has snapped a new set of haunting photographs of the ringed gas giant as it circles the planet from some 846,000 miles out.

Now a year into its first extended mission, Cassini has spent the last few months beaming home the most detailed images of Saturn, its moons and the outer solar system ever seen.

Composites of images taken through a wide angle lens with blue, green and red filters depict the planet?s rings and surface in natural color. The rings cast parallel shadows on the planet?s surface that bisect the hemispheres, captured in the latest colored image that NASA released on April 24. The C and B rings dominate the foreground as gently curved and striated bands of cream and earth tones. Below, the planet?s horizon darkens, fading from a ghostly yellow shimmer to the black of space. The photographs were shot on February 28 at a distance of roughly 621,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from the surface.

Another image reveals the sun-basking planet suspended amid a segment of its rings. The rings are backlit and arch gracefully into space. They were brightened to enhance visibility. These color-filtered images were captured on February 24 at a distance of 538,000 miles (866,000 kilometers) from the surface.

The probe began its 111th revolution around Saturn on May 2 at 846,000 miles (1.36 million kilometers) from the planet, its highest orbit to date. It will train its cameras on star clusters to aid in calibration, then it will study Saturn?s poles and the larger rocky denizens of its rings.

The nuclear-powered spacecraft launched in 1997 as a joint United States and European mission. It traveled for seven years to reach Saturn where it has orbited since June 2004. The mission was slated to end in 2008, but it was extended until next year. Cassini is hardy, and its instruments have weathered well, so it may be rewarded with new funding that would once again extend its mission, this time through 2017.

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