Seasons E-rings!

By Phil Plait | December 26, 2009 7:58 am

[It was either that title or "E-ring in the New Year".]

Here’s an unusual shot from the Cassini spacecraft: Saturn’s faint, diffuse E ring, seen almost edge-on:


I like this picture! First, we’re used to seeing Saturn’s rings looking sharp and well-defined, but this ring is fuzzy. It’s huge; it doesn’t even start until well outside the main rings, about 130,000 km (78,000 miles) above Saturn’s cloud tops, and is 300,000 km (180,000 miles) across! It’s thought that the ice particles in the ring are supplied by geysers from the moon Enceladus.

Second, we’re also used to seeing pictures of Saturn sitting in inky darkness. Saturn, its rings, and most of its moons are very bright, far brighter than the background stars. Exposing the images correctly for Saturn means the stars don’t show up, so the background is black (though not always, as this nice shot of the Pleaides from Cassini attests). But the E-ring is so faint that a longer exposure was needed, and then the fainter stars show up in multitudes.

This image was taken when Cassini was 2.5 million km (1.5 million miles) from Saturn, which was far enough to fit in a good amount of the edge of the ring. I really love all the images Cassini takes, but it’s the more unusual ones I really enjoy. Here’s hoping we see lots more in 2010!

Related Post: Cassini Dances with Enceladus Once Again.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (10)

  1. That is cool, and this time with stars. Are you SURE that NASA didn’t photoshop this one? ūüėÄ

  2. paoconnell

    I can’t really believe NASA would Photoshop the E ring.

    Next question: if the ice in this ring is being supplied by the geysers on Enceladus, does that mean that Enceladus will slowly disappear over time?

  3. Dan

    I have been rotating the Cassini shots as my desktop. Thanks for point out this really cool shot.

  4. Wait a sec. That’s no ring, that’s a freeze frame of a Death Star superlaser blast. Where, exactly, is Mimas, NASA?!

  5. Rick Cain

    Thats not saturn, its Kaitain, home of Emperor Shaddam IV

  6. Petrolonfire

    ^ Doesn’t Saturn deserve a capital ‘S’ too Rick? ūüėČ

    Nice picture – thought it was an edge on spiral at first. :-)

  7. Ivan Smith

    Just as well there is no sound in space, or we may have to get Cassini’s E-ring tested!


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