Saturn Shows Its Dark Side in Jaw-Dropping Photo

Saturn's Dark Side
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. (Image 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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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace