Saturn, surreally

By Phil Plait | May 23, 2012 7:00 am

Take 7+ years of Saturn observations by the Cassini spacecraft, stitch a whole lot of them together into short, film-noir-like segments, and add a Beethoven soundtrack. What do you get? Awesomeness.

The video was put together by Nahum Chazarra, who says on Twitter he’s a "Geology student, science lover". There’s literally too much in this to describe! Moons, rings, the planet itself… but I think my favorite part is when some object, usually a tiny moon, stays centered while the rings and planet and other objects wheel around it. It’s a change-of-perspective effect, but amazing to watch. And you really can’t go wrong with "Moonlight Sonata".

Something like this video has been done before (specifically here and here, and both are well, well worth your time to watch) but to be honest it’s impossible to get too much of this. The changing lighting and exposure, the sometimes jerky apparent motion (due to the inconstant times between exposures combined with the spacecraft’s motion), and the simply jaw-dropping spectacle of the ridiculously gaudy Saturnian system, all combine to make this an engaging and even mesmerizing show.

Tip o’ the dew shield to Dark Sapiens.


Related Posts:

- The stark beauty of Cassini’s Saturn
- Mesmerizing time lapse of Saturn and Jupiter from spacecraft
- An icy Titanic encounter
- Video of Cassini’s Hyperion flyby

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

Comments (36)

Links to this Post

  1. Cool Saturn Videos! | Welcome to happy-hybrid.com | May 27, 2012
  1. My wife taught herself to play Moonlight Sonata on the piano, so I think this will be a must see for her! :)

    And yes, this is pure awesome! Thank you sir.

  2. Nicholas

    My favorite thing about this is that it looks like it could have been shot in the silent film era with miniatures.

  3. Ian C.

    There’s a few shots that looks like the rings are perturbed by a passing moon(let) – is that an optical or real effect?

  4. Artor

    That’s pretty awesome! Would it be possible for Cassini to fly THROUGH the rings? They look solid, but just how dense are they? Are the gaps thin enough for it to survive the transit? It would be pretty cool to get some close-up pics of what the rings are made of.

  5. Chris

    @3 Artor
    Actually when Cassini first entered orbit it went through one of the gaps between the F and G rings. I’m sure that must have been pretty nerve wracking even though the odds of collision were small.

    As for the density in the actual rings, I pulled some numbers from the wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rings_of_Saturn). The B ring for instance is 2.8 x 10^19 kg about 10 m thick. Also the B ring is between 92,000 km and 117,580 km from Saturn’s center. Some simple algebra later we find the density to be ~170 kg/m^3. For comparison water’s density is 1000 kg/m^3. Since the rings are mostly water ice, it’s about 80% open space and 20% ice, but yes this is very dense and I would not want to fly though that.

  6. bouch

    Well done. I love how he’s timed the scene changes with the notes…

  7. RyanH

    I’m going to have to disagree with the “Awesomeness” label here. I didn’t like this video at all, mostly because the scenery went by so fast and the scenes cut from one to another so fast that it was almost impossible to appreciate the beauty of all the sequences. I felt like I was watching a music video and might have gone into photoelectric seizure at any moment. Gorgeous shots and very well put together no doubt, but this video seemed frenetic and hurried rather than majestic and awe-inspiring.

    (Also, as a music quasi-snob I hate the Moonlight Sonata at that tempo. It should be played much slower, and this particular rendition used way too many top-hat accent notes when they should have been regular accent notes.)

  8. jen

    That was amazing!! Thanks for sharing.

    However, this little video has sparked a debate.
    How many moons does Saturn have?
    There is conflicting data.
    We have all decide that you have the final say, Mr. Plait.

  9. cruff

    Great! I think the sound track needs the “suh-ssk suh-ssk” noises of a dusty vinyl LP being played to go with the spinning rings. Probably lost on those too young to know what an LP sounds like…

  10. Bryan

    @Ian
    That’s a real gravitational effect of moons on Saturn’s rings.

  11. SkyGazer

    A good music is always a must!

    Take a look at this little marching Slinky…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=711bZ_pLusQ

    with those softly flopping feet, he marches on and on… epic.

  12. Wesley Struebing

    Wow! Just – wow! A shout-out, too, to the Cassini Imaging Team and the incomparable Carolyn Porco! Still doing great (and extremely beautiful) science after all these years!

    Thanks, Phil for posting this.

    PS (anyone know of a transcription of “Monnlight…” for guitar? ;-) )

  13. Ian: there are a few shots of small moons perturbing rings. Emily has some good writeups at her blog on planetary.org.

  14. @cruff (#9) way to make me feel old… :(

  15. Chris

    I liked seeing the perturbation of the rings by the little moons passing by.

    I always wondered if Saturn didn’t have rings would we ever imagine a planet having rings which look like that? I’m sure we’d be able to simulate something similar but I think many people would regard it as a curiosity and something which would be too unstable to exist in nature. It kind of makes you wonder what other rare processes have been simulated on a computer that we never hear about.

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 3. Ian C. asked : “There’s a few shots that looks like the rings are perturbed by a passing moon(let) – is that an optical or real effect?”

    These are real features as a couple of folks have noted already. You can see more on this via this :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgre5C-7Af4

    Youtube clip. You definitely want to click the “Show more” button in the description for more info too. :-)

    Also see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/07/26/saturn-weather-forecast-rings-with-light-rain-from-enceladus/

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rings_of_Saturn

    The moons and moonlets play a big role in making Saturn’s rings what they are -Enceladus helps form one of the rings and various shepherd moons keep the rings in shape -and sometimes warped out of it.

    Good clip – although I’m not sure the music quite suits it. I’d have set this to Magnificat personally!

  17. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for sharing my video! :D
    I never thought it would arrive so far on the internet :)

    And also thanks to all the people who have watched it, even if disliked the video because it helps to make better ones.

    Greetings from Spain!

  18. Calli Arcale

    I can see why he picked Moonlight Sonata, though I have to agree with those who’ve disliked the performance of it. I like this piece a great deal, but I tend to play it much lighter and slower. This also wasn’t as expressive as I’d like; the volume range is extremely limited, but the actual score has it range from pianissimo to forte and back again. I feel the arpeggios need to grow bigger in the middle and then smaller at the end, but these were played at a constant volume, making it sound almost plodding despite the faster tempo. (It should be adagio.) So I’d like to see this done again with a better performance of the music. ;-)

    Some criticizised the judderiness of it. This is because it is made entirely with raw data, and entirely out of stills — these weren’t recorded as movies. The same thing has been done before, with different music, on multiple occasions. This one’s pretty good:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNmgiinYY-M

  19. Blargh

    @ RyanH

    I felt like I was watching a music video and might have gone into photoelectric seizure at any moment.

    Is that one where absorbing photons makes you emit epileptrons?
    … sorry, couldn’t resist. ;)

  20. Ohio Mike

    +1, thumbs up, props, etc…

    The thought that came to mind: this is how David Lynch would do “Le voyage dans la lune.”

  21. mike burkhart

    That was incredable , Saturn has been seen in many a science fiction movie : In the 30s Buck Rogers seriel the bad guy ,Killer Kane, came from Saturn,In 1971 the movie Slient Runing had a space craft go thro the rings and in the 1986 Alien ripoff Creature took place on Titan . I think there is so munch intrest in Saturn in science fiction because Saturn looks like a nice planet with its rings and all.

  22. mass murdoch

    Awesome footage.

    Zero-feeling MIDI transcription/sound card piano patch makes Beethoven cry.

  23. Adam K

    I agree with many here that this tempo of Moonlight Sonata is much too fast. Still, nice footage.

  24. James Evans

    @#2 Nicholas:

    Yeah, that’s what I kept thinking while watching.

    Cronusferatu, or something.

  25. Gregosaurus

    Pretty cool, tho I found given the jerky pace of the video, “Rock Lobster” works better for music.

  26. Grand Lunar

    Words are insufficen to describe the sublime beauty of the Saturian system!

  27. Brendan C.

    I’m trying to remember if Phil has mentioned a film project called Outside In. It’s an IMAX film that’s being produced by 1 guy in his basement using real still images from Cassini, then output to 15/70 large format film. It’s a crowdsourced film so it’s been a challenge to keep it going but it looks like it will be done soon.

    http://vimeo.com/33933151

  28. Mattias Gunnarsson

    This got me wondering. Is there any kind of logging of the probes location and orientation during its mission that could be used to plot its trajectory during its dance around the planet? It would be pretty interesting to see that visualized.

    I get that there is no GPS over there, so it may not be that easy to actually keep track if things. I would guess that people with great know-how have planned the trajectory and let it go, but since it is n-body madness over there, how accuratley can this really be done? Is it planned to swirl around for a while and then get ejected into oblivion, or is it more a case of “We can plan this far, but then it becomes to uncertain to know. Lets hope for the best after the planned mission time runs out. Maybe it ends with a scary close-up of one of the moons and goes out with a bang”?

  29. Ladyduojet

    Gotta keep in mind that these are photos from a distant satellite taken over several years that are pasted together. The quality is not gonna be Hollywood perfect. I’m a musician as well but not a pretentious musical snob. Outstanding video, Mr. Chazarra!

  30. Old Rockin' Dave

    @Nicholas, # 2:
    “My favorite thing about this is that it looks like it could have been shot in the silent film era”.
    Do you mean you don’t recognize the “fantastical” sequence from the original 1924 version of “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

  31. Kim

    I liked Nahúm’s performance, althought I’m not a music geek to criticize more deeply as others have done. If you were concerned about copyright, isn’t there an “open source” repository for music? There are so many computer+classic music geeks that it’s amusing no one created a piano github. At least, at dominiopublico.gov.br (in portuguese) you can find a lot of open MIDIs (and other media) in the public domain.

    Althought I know there was a great deal of work to put this video together, I find that it lacks some storyline, and that it used images too raw – you could put some more effort aligning them to center in some features, as the opening scene of Cassini Mission. Also, I didn’t like the flickering effect, possibly due to Cassini taking consecutive pictures with different filters. That’s my two cents of criticism to a great vid!

  32. Peter B

    As I watched clips showing moons being tracked on their orbits, I was amazed all over again at our ability to record such sequences of images so smoothly – knowing where the spacecraft is from second to second, where the moon is from second to second, and where to point the camera.

  33. Peter B

    Mattias Gunnarsson @ #28 asked: “This got me wondering. Is there any kind of logging of the probes location and orientation during its mission that could be used to plot its trajectory during its dance around the planet? It would be pretty interesting to see that visualized.”

    I’m pretty sure there is, presumably based on Doppler shifting of radio signals, and possibly accelerometers. There will no doubt be experts out there who know for sure.

    Cassini’s Wikipedia page has an image of its orbits around Saturn. It’s an impressive squiggle.

    “I get that there is no GPS over there, so it may not be that easy to actually keep track if things. I would guess that people with great know-how have planned the trajectory and let it go, but since it is n-body madness over there, how accuratley can this really be done?”

    I expect that most of the time they can ignore the moons, given they’re tiny and a long way away. Most of the time it would just be an interaction between Cassini and Saturn. And when they approach a moon it would still only be a 3-body problem. I’m fairly sure they have extremely accurate data on where Cassini is from second to second, and where it’s heading.

    “Is it planned to swirl around for a while and then get ejected into oblivion, or is it more a case of “We can plan this far, but then it becomes to uncertain to know. Lets hope for the best after the planned mission time runs out. Maybe it ends with a scary close-up of one of the moons and goes out with a bang”?”

    While Cassini has maneuvering fuel they can keep tweaking its trajectory. Wikipedia says Cassini will be crashed into Saturn in 2017. This is same fate as the Galileo spacecraft sent to Jupiter – to prevent it from possibly contaminating any of the moons (just in case there’s life).

  34. Xander

    @Nicholas, # 2:
    “My favorite thing about this is that it looks like it could have been shot in the silent film era”.

    I have to imagine that was intentional – at least a few times, the screen devolved into a flurry of ‘film scratches’, that obviously would not effect this particular probe.

    The choice of ‘Moonlight Sonata’, the stop-motion-like effect of strictly black-and-white photos…I think it was intentional. Reminds me a lot of elements of maybe ‘Nosferatu’ or ‘A Trip to the Moon’.

    Magnificently done, IMHO, but then I’m a pretty big fan of ‘silent films’…

  35. Bob

    Loving the irregular moons and the flickering effect. That will never get old.

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