Over the last couple of weeks, the Cassini imaging team (and, to a lesser extent, the other instrument teams) have been cranking out image releases, celebrating both the recent Iapetus flyby and the ten years since Cassini's launch. These piles of extra image releases are almost all jaw-droppingly beautiful; it would seem that it's hard to take a bad photo in the Saturn system, but, truth be told, such beautiful images also require a lot of hard work on the part of imaging team members. Color images are a special challenge because Cassini is in constant motion, so as it takes each view through different-color filters, its vantage point on the planet, moons, and rings changes slightly. Making color views requires careful registration of these multiple single-filter images, often with stretching and resizing. In some cases, particularly with images of moons captured during close flybys, planar stretching and resizing isn't enough; the images have to be tagged with detailed geometric information and then ground through software that reprojects the images, figuring out where each pixel falls upon a shape model of the moon, and then flattening the images back out into a common geometry. It's finicky work, and it takes patience and skill.
I couldn't possibly post all the beautiful images in one day, so you'll probably see them coming out in batches. To begin with, here's another one of those top-down global views of Saturn; Cassini took many of these over the first few months of this year. The global view below wasn't on my previous list because it was taken later, in May, as Cassini was starting to crank its orbit back down toward the ring plane again.
To produce images as lovely as what comes out from the Cassini team, you have to wait for the proprietary period to expire and for the team to archive the original, official data on NASA's Planetary Data System. That usually takes roughly nine months, so there's now well over two years worth of high-quality image data available in the Planetary Data System for all you image junkies out there to play with.
Anyway, these are just a couple of the amazing pictures released this week; I'll get to more of them in future posts.