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Captain's Log

December 18, 2012

After more than eight years in orbit and just in time for the holidays, Cassini has delivered another awe-inspiring backlit view of Saturn and its rings.

On Oct. 17, 2012, during its 174th orbit around the gas giant, the spacecraft was deliberately positioned within Saturn's shadow, a perfect location from which to look back at Saturn in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet. Looking at a plantary body illuminated by the sun from behind is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as "high solar phase;" near the center of the body's shadow is the highest phase possible. This is a very coveted viewing position as it can reveal details about the target, in this particular case both the planet's atmosphere and rings, that cannot be seen at lower solar phase.

The last time Cassini had such an unusual perspective on Saturn and its rings, at sufficient distance and with sufficient time to take a full mosaic of images of the entire system, occurred in September 2006 when it captured a mosaic of images, processed to look like natural color, entitled "In Saturn's Shadow-The Pale Blue Dot". In that mosaic, planet Earth put in a special appearance, making "In Saturn's Shadow" our most popular Cassini image of all time.

The mosaic we are releasing today does not contain Earth: Along with the sun, our planet is hidden behind Saturn. However, it was taken when Cassini was closer to Saturn and therefore shows more detail in the rings than the one from six years ago. It also is displayed as it truly is, in false-color ... leaving a rather eerie and surreal impression on the viewer.

Of all the many glorious images we have received from Saturn, none are more strikingly unusual than those we have taken from Saturn's shadow. They unveil a rare splendor seldom seen anywhere else in our solar system.

This one is our special gift to you, the people of the world, in this holiday season that brings to a close the year 2012. We fervently hope it serves as a reminder that we humans, though troubled and warlike, are also the dreamers, thinkers, and explorers inhabiting one achingly beautiful planet, yearning for the sublime, and capable of the magnificent. We hope it reminds you to protect our planet with all your might and cherish the life it so naturally sustains.

From all of us on Cassini, the happiest of holidays to everyone.


Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Director, CICLOPS
Boulder, CO

More Captain's Logs

Alliance Member Comments
Masud.bd (May 2, 2013 at 11:00 AM):
I am very proud .because i seeing real picture of saturn.so i hope this image spread all over the world.
carolyn (CICLOPS) (May 1, 2013 at 10:00 AM):
chiptaker761: Funny you should ask this because soon after your comment we posted this image -- http://www.ciclops.org/view.php?id=7536 -- which does show stars. For bright objects in the Saturn system, exposure times are generally too short to see anything but the brightest stars. But take a look at this very long exposure of Iapetus ... http://www.ciclops.org/view.php?id=708 ... LOTS of stars visible in this one. Lesson: solar system objects, of which you've seen lots of images, are generally bright enough and exposure times short enough that stars don't cross detection threshold.
chiptaker761 (Apr 18, 2013 at 1:42 PM):
carolyn, im sure your much too busy to answer questions on this site..lol..but just in case .i have wondered for years and have never found anyone with an answer to my question; how come in every photo i have ever seen of planets ,moons, and even the astronauts on the moon,how come you can never ever see stars or anything in the background, never even the hint of light from anything ,as though it is a giant void in the background ,anyone with an answer feel free to leave an email or something WHERE ARE THE STARS chiptaker761@gmail.com
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Apr 14, 2013 at 6:21 PM):
Thank you, dwagner and others, for the praise and kind words. We aim to serve, and continue bringing you news of this magnificent adventure. Stay with us!
dwagner (Apr 2, 2013 at 8:54 PM):
Thank you for putting this site together, I saw your writeup in the March Discover magazine...very nice, good for you!
I am putting a short write up in our Astronomy newsletter this month to tell others about your site. www.NPMAS.org Thanks for your years of hard work!
UweZ (Mar 11, 2013 at 1:20 PM):
Passing Rhea at an altitude of only 620 miles would have given Cassiniís camera an unprecedented detailed view of Rheaís surface. Where can I see those 12 images shot at close-encounter? Why did the camera then stop taking pictures and not resume again until the craft was 167,000 miles away?
ml39612 (Feb 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM):
Here's why I think the storms on Saturn and Jupiter will disappear. The orbits of the planets in the solar system are strongly connected with enumeration. Our Solar System is, relative to the Galaxy, upside down, and it appears that in the System's formation, the time duration of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn stabilized in a 1:3 ratio. However, the relative (to our star system) upside down appearance of our Galaxy destabilized objects more distance, which meant Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Uranus took up the difference in the total angular momentum of the Solar System by being flipped over on its side, a phenomenon familiar with gyroscope designers. Otherwise, Uranus would probably have had a 90 year orbit.

With Uranus somewhat detaching the inner solar system from Neptune,
Neptune's formation took a ragged turn. In part, it tried to take from the coalescing gas cloud part or all of what would have been the formation of Uranus, and in part, it tried to take what became Pluto.

The resulting orbit of Neptune was thus neither 90 years nor was it 270 years. Uranus had stabilized with an anemic 85 year orbit which prevented proper phasing of the 3:1 ratio throughout, and the 270 year orbit of Pluto stabilized at its anemic 256 year orbit.

I think the coalescing gas cloud and 3:1 enumeration ratio theory for the Solar System can be followed to some remarkably accurate views.

Of course it could take a very long time to prove grand theories of that kind.
ml39612 (Feb 24, 2013 at 12:45 PM):
Carolyn,

The work of the Alliance team which you represent is always superlative. Thank you for that.

I'd bet the storms on the North Poles of both Saturn and Jupiter will disappear in the coming decades.

Michael
MarB (Jan 9, 2013 at 10:53 PM):
Hi, Carolyn,

I've been an Astronomny fan for MANY years (since the '60's) and am also a fellow artist. If you need me or my assistance, please let me know.

Marcia
P.S. Go Cassini and New Horizons! Go, JPL!!!
MarB (Jan 9, 2013 at 10:44 PM):
Not since The Pioneers and even Voyagers have we seen such imagery and I DID appreciate them at the time.
Ad Astra. I'm also a visual artist, so if you need me as well, please let me know. Ad Astra per Aspera (that means a lot these days).
Marcia (She of Mars in Latin---Go Opportunity and go New Horizons!)
MarB (Jan 9, 2013 at 10:44 PM):
Not since The Pioneers and even Voyagers have we seen such imagery and I DID appreciate them at the time.
Ad Astra. I'm also a visual artist, so if you need me as well, please let me know. Ad Astra per Aspera (that means a lot these days).
Marcia (She of Mars in Latin---Go Opportunity and go New Horizons!)
MarB (Jan 9, 2013 at 10:44 PM):
Not since The Pioneers and even Voyagers have we seen such imagery and I DID appreciate them at the time.
Ad Astra. I'm also a visual artist, so if you need me as well, please let me know. Ad Astra per Aspera (that means a lot these days).
Marcia (She of Mars in Latin---Go Opportunity and go New Horizons!)
MarB (Jan 9, 2013 at 10:43 PM):
Not since The Pioneers and even Voyagers have we seen such imagery and I DID appreciate them at the time.
Ad Astra. I'm also a visual artist, so if you need me as well, please let me know. Ad Astra per Aspera (that means a lot these days).
Marcia (She of Mars in Latin---Go Opportunity and go New Horizons!)
GorT> (Dec 30, 2012 at 10:44 PM):
Carolyn,

Bravo on the false color exposure! Although, since Cassini orbits between Saturn and Uranus, couldn't we get some closeup exposures of a beautiful Uranusian false color image? I mean, all one has to do is spin the spacecraft 180 degrees and change angle a little, right. The blue is of such a vast and deep hue it extends one's imagination, much like Neptune. If Saturn is the only real gas giant to have a complex solid core, what about a small probe to the center of the planet, just to transmit telemetry back before it either blew up or froze? Also, some of Saturn's moons must be on the drawing board as proto-planets i.e. Titan, if we ever leap frog out that far. Could a moon be terraformed for colonization, and could Saturn one day turn into a star? Is that the plan after the Earth and Mars's resources are depleted?
brainiac9129 (Dec 23, 2012 at 9:28 PM):
Quoting Dr. Porco: "(...)are also the dreamers, thinkers, and explorers inhabiting one achingly beautiful planet, yearning for the sublime, and capable of the magnificent."
Dr. Porco, please allow me to make your words, my words. Sincere thanks to the Cassini team for all the hard and marvellous work.
Merry Christmas to all.
brainiac9129 (Dec 23, 2012 at 8:57 PM):
Quoting Dr. Porco: "(...)are also the dreamers, thinkers, and explorers inhabiting one achingly beautiful planet, yearning for the sublime, and capable of the magnificent."
Dr. Porco, please allow me to make your words, my words. Sincere thanks and congratulations to the Cassini team for all the hard and marvellous work.
Merry Christmas to all.
tentorro (Dec 21, 2012 at 10:35 PM):
Wow! Thanks to Cassini for bring the wonder so close... and all the folks who help to explain it. Thereís just one word thatís fitting for this planet; itís simply Majestic!
NeKto (Dec 19, 2012 at 7:54 AM):
i agree with Pablo.
what a stunning image. i can see why newtoy has some visual confusion. the transition from seeing the rings back lit with sunlight, to invisible in full shadow, to back lit from double reflected planet glow renders a remarkable experience.
once again i am struck by scale and wish i had a yard stick to give me an idea how large some of the dimensions i am looking at are. the band of glow through the atmosphere, as thin as it appears in the image, has to represent a large chunk of kilometers on an orb as large as Saturn. does the planet side edge of that band represent the cloud tops we see in other images?
to the whole Cassini team; thanks for the great holiday gift!
roysykes (Dec 19, 2012 at 4:14 AM):
A stunning image, but I do not understand the geometry of it: the black oval at the top, the discontinuity of the rings, the discontinuous "ring glow" in the upper (northern?) half of the planet. My imagination can't seem to construct a cohesive model of these disparate elements, whereas I could in the "Pale Blue Dot" mosaic.
portercc (Dec 18, 2012 at 11:47 PM):
Beautiful. Is it possible to see it without false color?
portercc (Dec 18, 2012 at 11:43 PM):
Beautiful. Is it possible to see it without false color?
newtoy (Dec 18, 2012 at 9:06 PM):
Carolyn,
You and your team do such superior work. If you have an interest in someone volunteering for a summer, please let me know.
Gil.
Pablo (Dec 18, 2012 at 4:28 PM):
Carolyn and team,

Thanks for your latest scientifically important and stunningly beautiful images. Y'all done good!

Pablo - Florida Astronomer

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