Bill DunfordApr 15, 2013

In a New Light

The robotic spacecraft we send into the Solar System show us places we could never see with our own eyes. This is not just because these machines travel through the dark and deadly emptiness of space. It's also because their sensitive cameras see the worlds they visit in ways that go beyond the capacity of our own vision.

A good example is the spacecraft Cassini, which has spent 15 years on an odyssey that took it past Jupiter and other planets before it began its main mission, a detailed survey of the Saturn system. It's equipped with a range of sensitive instruments, including cameras that can take in light through a variety of interchangeable filters. Those filters allow Earth-bound explorers to examine the ringed giant and its jewel box of icy moons not only in the reds, greens and blues we're familiar with, but also in infrared and ultraviolet light.

Cassini's cameras even have filters that are particularly sensitive to wavelengths that are absorbed by methane, an important component in the atmospheres of the outer planets. Seeing the swirling clouds of those worlds in that light brings out details that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Following are some images of Jupiter and Saturn seen in a way they're not commonly shown: as imaged through those methane band filters.

Jupiter & Moons Seen Through Methane Band Filter
Jupiter & Moons Seen Through Methane Band Filter Jupiter and moons as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. The image was taken using a filter sensitive to light absorbed by methane. NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI
Jupiter Seen Through Methane Band Filter
Jupiter Seen Through Methane Band Filter Jupiter and moon as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. The image was taken using a filter sensitive to a frequency of light absorbed by methane. This is a composite shot with enhanced contrast and reduced noise. NASA / JPL -Caltech / SSI / Bill Dunford
Jupiter Receding
Jupiter Receding Jupiter as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. The image was taken using a filter sensitive to light absorbed by methane. NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI
Saturn Seen Through Methane Band Filter
Saturn Seen Through Methane Band Filter Saturn as seen by the Cassini spacecraft using a filter sensitive to a frequency of light absorbed by methane. I've removed digital noise and enhanced the contrast. NASA / JPL -Caltech / SSI / Bill Dunford
Saturn Storms Seen Through Methane Band Filter
Saturn Storms Seen Through Methane Band Filter Saturn's atmosphere as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. The images were taken using a filter sensitive to light absorbed by methane. NASA / JPL -Caltech / SSI / Bill Dunford

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