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Emily LakdawallaDecember 12, 2009

Planetary Society Advent Calendar for December 12: Saturn

I've grown used to Saturn over the last five-plus years. Cassini's amazing cameras have set a new standard for the quality, sharpness, resolution, beautiful color, and all-around spectacularness of images returned from the outer solar system. Almost every day, there's a few dozen, even hundreds of new images to look at. It's gotten so that I find it hard to look at each new image with fresh eyes -- I'm getting jaded, or maybe I've just run out of superlatives to describe the pictures. But with a little exertion, I can reawaken my awe at another amazing image. And they are amazing.

This mosaic on Saturn was captured on July 23, 2008, over a period of two hours. It was taken just hours before this mosaic released by the Cassini imaging team, but I like this one because the rings are more open, competing with the planet for the attention of your eye. (However, the official release does include several of the moons, which is pretty cool.)

Saturn global view from Cassini, rings open

NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / color composite by Gordan Ugarkovic

Saturn global view from Cassini, rings open
Cassini captured the 30 frames required to construct this mosaic on 23 July 2008, from a distance of about a million kilometers. About a year before Saturn's equinox, the ring shadows have shifted from where they were early in Cassini's mission to a fat arc a little above the equator.

This, I think, is a mosaic for the ages. I love all the subtle color variations across Saturn's disk and within the rings, especially the B ring. I love the varying transparency of the rings, which you can pick up where the rings cross the planet's limb. I love the fact that Cassini's camera, sensitive to a huge range of contrast, has picked up the faint C and F rings as well as the much brighter A and B rings. I may have to print this one and put it on my wall at home!

Each day in December I'm posting a new global shot of a solar system body, processed by an amateur. Go to the blog homepage to open the most recent door in the planetary advent calendar!

Read more: pretty pictures, Cassini, data art (was amateur image processing), full-globe view, Saturn, Saturn's rings

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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