The immensity of Saturn

By Phil Plait | January 6, 2012 7:00 am

Carolyn Porco, the leader of the Cassini spacecraft imaging team, tweeted about this picture last night, and it’s simply overwhelming:

This is a stunning portrait of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft in December. Its beauty and fantastic — in the literal sense of being like a fantasy — cloudscape are so overwhelming you might not even notice the moon Tethys hanging just under the knife-edged rings. To give you an idea of how immense Saturn is, "tiny" Tethys is over a thousand kilometers across.

This picture was taken using an infrared filter, where details in the clouds come out. That, plus the shadow of the rings on the southern hemisphere, make this one of my favorite pictures of Saturn I’ve seen in quite some time.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Cassini, Saturn, Tethys

Comments (17)

Links to this Post

  1. In the shadows of the giant « Lone Immortal | January 6, 2012
  2. The Immensity of Saturn | Suburban Men | January 8, 2012
  1. Gary

    This image has the feel of some of the imaginative space art that accompanied science fiction stories in the 1950s … without the silly alien monsters, of course.

  2. Tethys is over a thousand kilometrs across, AND it’s 294,660 kilometers CLOSER!

  3. What an amazing image! With Tethys also in shot it gives some idea of just how huge Saturn really is.

  4. Dr_cy_coe

    Question: Is the picture stretched (horizontally) or are we seeing the effects of gravity & rotation when comparing the equatorial and polar radii of Saturn? I think it’s the latter, but then .. Wow..

  5. John Matthews
  6. That’s no moon . . .

  7. How about APOD from the day before yesterday?
    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120105.html
    Now that’s why we need NASA & Carolyn Porco!

  8. But for me the coolest part of your image, Phil, is where at the far left the pencil-thin ring reappears after going off the edge of the image and then promptly goes behind the limb of Saturn.

    All told, however, Saturn just can’t take a bad picture.

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    That, plus the shadow of the rings on the southern hemisphere, make this one of my favorite pictures of Saturn I’ve seen in quite some time.

    Mine too. Superluminous image. Just jaw-droppingly marvellous. :-)

    The sense of wonder and splendour this photo evokes is just stunning. :-)

    Thankyou Carolyn Porco, thankyou Cassini team & thankyou BA. :-)

  10. vin rando

    how many kilometers across is earth ?

  11. Jeff

    GEEPERS CREEPERS, GEEWIZ, ETC. RIGHT?

    when I was a grad student in 1980 at UW-Madison, a professor excitedly brought into our class some crude voyager pictures of Jupiter or Saturn. Boy, we’ve come a long way, this new one is just unbelievable in resolution.

  12. Chris A.

    @vin rando (#12)
    “how many kilometers across is earth ?”

    12,756 at the equator. A wee bit less from pole to pole. So, roughly 1/9th the diameter of Saturn (not including the rings).

  13. Nigel Depledge

    Jeff (13) said:

    when I was a grad student in 1980 at UW-Madison, a professor excitedly brought into our class some crude voyager pictures of Jupiter or Saturn. Boy, we’ve come a long way, this new one is just unbelievable in resolution.

    Heh. I had a similar experience in about 1990. I was in the students’ Astronomical Society at Uni, and I recall the excitement when our slide pack of Voyager 2′s encounter with Neptune turned up.

  14. Dan Henderson

    The fact that, on the left edge of the picture, you can see the back side of the rings disappearing behind Saturn, separated slightly from the part of the rings on the near side, means the rings are not quite exactly horizontal with the camera, which is a good thing. If they were exactly horizontal, they might easily disappear from view (except for the shadows, of course). I’ve been told they’re only about 5 meters (15 feet) thick.

  15. chris

    I’m still thinking about this picture two months later. Does anyone know if there is a bigger version than that at CICLOPS (1020px on a side)? I’d gladly pay for a nice print of it.

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