CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS

In Saturn's Shadow - the Pale Blue Dot
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In Saturn's Shadow - the Pale Blue Dot
PIA 08329

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In Saturn's Shadow - the Pale Blue Dot
PIA 08329

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In Saturn's Shadow - the Pale Blue Dot
PIA 08329

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  With giant Saturn hanging in the blackness and sheltering Cassini from the Sun's blinding glare, the spacecraft viewed the rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world.

This marvelous panoramic view was created by combining a total of 165 images taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006. The full mosaic consists of three rows of nine wide-angle camera footprints; only a portion of the full mosaic is shown here. Color in the view was created by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared and clear filter images and was then adjusted to resemble natural color.

The mosaic images were acquired as the spacecraft drifted in the darkness of Saturn's shadow for about 12 hours, allowing a multitude of unique observations of the microscopic particles that comprise Saturn's faint rings.

Ring structures containing these tiny particles brighten substantially at high phase angles: i.e., viewing angles where the Sun is almost directly behind the objects being imaged.

During this period of observation Cassini detected two new faint rings: one coincident with the shared orbit of the moons Janus and Epimetheus and another coincident with Pallene's orbit. (See PIA08322 and PIA08328 for more on the two new rings.)

The narrowly confined G ring is easily seen here, outside the bright main rings. Encircling the entire system is the much more extended E ring. The icy plumes of Enceladus, whose eruptions supply the E ring particles, betray the moon's position in the E ring's left side edge.

Interior to the G ring and above the brighter main rings is the pale blue dot of Earth. Cassini views its point of origin from over a billion kilometers (and close to a billion miles) away in the icy depths of the outer solar system. See PIA08324 for a similar view of Earth taken during this observation.

Small grains are pushed about by sunlight and electromagnetic forces. Hence their distribution tells much about the local space environment.

A second version of the mosaic view is presented here in which the color contrast is greatly exaggerated. In such views, imaging scientists have noticed color variations across the diffuse rings that imply active processes sort the particles in the ring according to their sizes.

Looking at the E ring in this color-exaggerated view, the distribution of color across and along the ring appears to be different between the right side and the left. Scientists are not sure yet how to explain these differences, though the difference in phase angle between right and left may be part of the explanation. The phase angle is about 179 degrees on Saturn.

The main rings are overexposed in a few places. Reddish lens flares are visible in both versions of the view. These radially extending artifacts result from light being scattered within the camera optics.

This view looks toward the unlit side of the rings from about 15 degrees above the ringplane.

Cassini was approximately 2.2 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Saturn when the images in this mosaic were taken. Image scale on Saturn is about 260 kilometers (162 miles) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit and the Cassini imaging team home page,

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Released: October 11, 2006 (PIA 08329)
Image/Caption Information

Alliance Member Comments
pafpaf (Jun 4, 2015 at 5:02 PM):
Friends, here is small 3D model of what we see:
sustayne (Nov 12, 2013 at 11:04 AM):
Maybe Saturn got all the looks, but we got the air and water. Na Naa na Boo Boo!
kashalha (Oct 14, 2010 at 4:08 PM):

i would love to get a poster also of this image, the PIA 08329. did you use the one off this site, or a different one? i tried a different company and the picture came out just horrible, luckily for me they refunded my money. thanks!
Joseph C. Fineman (May 24, 2010 at 9:28 AM):
What a spectacle! and then to see us nestled between rings makes it a good deal more than a spectacle. I have had a poster made of this (; they do nice work) and told my friends about it.

What, precisely, are we seeing when we look at the dark side? Some combination of light reflected directly from the rings to the spacecraft, and illumination of nighttime Saturn by the rings? Mostly the latter, it seems.

I calculate that the sun, if visible, would show a disk with about 1/3 of Saturn's diameter in this picture. Is that right?

Tiger (Apr 6, 2008 at 1:55 PM):
Nice,it`s very interesting
rbethune (Apr 5, 2008 at 8:03 PM):
The TIFF file seems to have been corrupted.
Red_dragon (Jan 5, 2008 at 6:03 AM):
If you let me, I'll make another comment on that image now she's the winner of the contest. "On the Final Frontier" gives a feeling not only of beauty, but also of power. Especially when one knows how largue is Saturn.
This one is full of magic and mistery -especially this- for obvious reasons; nobody could have imagined something so beautiful, magical, and misterious as "In Saturn's Shadow".
jsc248 (Dec 6, 2007 at 2:18 PM):
There is only one word for this image "WOW". Truly breathtaking in it's beauty.
Acrylikhan (Dec 5, 2007 at 5:51 PM):
This is truly a beautiful image!
Moonsister (Mar 16, 2007 at 8:11 PM):
Yes, this is Hubblike, only a zillion light years closer. Some of the best Hubble's I've seen are composite images with Spitzer and Chandra. This is so beauiful I am speeches, unusual for a _______..(you guess) :-)
Iapetus Monolith (Mar 6, 2007 at 5:48 PM):
In my humble opinion, this is the most spectacular image ever returned by any spacecraft, manned or otherwise. I must be dreaming! To Carolyn and all others working on the Cassini mission: you have boldly gazed where no one has gazed before. Humanity will be eternally indebted to you.
pulaski (Jan 17, 2007 at 11:51 AM):
Actually the enhanced color version of Saturn's Shadow is at
where it can be identified as 2230_6163_0.jpg
pulaski (Jan 17, 2007 at 11:48 AM):
Saturns Shadow is also my vote for the best image of 2006 There is an enhanced color version 2230_6163_1.jpg that I've also seen mentioned as the best of the 2006 Cassini images. In a word, Spectacular!
JEC (Jan 17, 2007 at 10:52 AM):
Actually the Sun is currently south of the ring plane. In fact, you can see a refracted image of the Sun peering through the atmosphere on the left southern part of the image. This is why the northern half of Saturn is darker than the the southern half in this mosaic. The northern hemisphere is not completely dark because some sunlight scatters through the rings and onto the planet. Notice that the left and right sides of the northern hemisphere are brighter than the center. That's because there's not an easy path for light to get to that part of Saturn, while light from the rings on the right and left can scatter onto that portion of the planet.
JamesH (Jan 12, 2007 at 1:09 AM):
>What I'm wondering is why isn't Saturn itself completely black?
>Is it transparent, glowing from within, or do the rings reflect
>light towards the "surface"?

It's illuminated by the rings. Currently the north side of the rings are in sunlight, so the northern half of Saturn is better illuminated. Also the equator of Saturn only sees the edge of the rings, so it's dark.
Louise Sharples (Jan 11, 2007 at 12:58 PM):
Lost for words...

gandraw: the rings reflect sunlight onto the nightside of Saturn.
gandraw (Jan 3, 2007 at 11:25 AM):
What I'm wondering is why isn't Saturn itself completely black? Is it transparent, glowing from within, or do the rings reflect light towards the "surface"?
Ed Rolko (Jan 1, 2007 at 7:22 PM):
Images like this, in my opinion, alone justify the cost of the mission. This one easily ranks up there with (or beats) some of the best Hubble images.
Aggie01 (Dec 30, 2006 at 10:52 PM):
I have to agree with Bad Astronomy's editor - this was the best astronomy image I'd seen in all of 2006! To see his other choices, try here to check them out:
Red_dragon (Dec 30, 2006 at 3:24 AM):
Simply put,magnificent.If i had to choose two images that represented the Cassini-Huygens mission,one would be this one (the other,the view of Titan's surface obtained by Huygens).

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