New images yield dramatic views of Saturn's faintest rings

Oct. 21, 2013 at 5:45 PM

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The Cassini spacecraft has captured a dramatic infrared image providing new detailed views of Saturn's faintest rings, NASA says.

The newly released image shows the far side of the planet and its gauzy rings, the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported.

Saturn's faint outer F, E and G rings, or the tenuous inner ring known as the D ring, because they are almost transparent and composed of small particles that don't reflect light well are difficult to see when light is shining directly on them, researchers said.

"Looking at the Saturn system when it is back-lit by the sun gives scientists a kind of inside-out view of Saturn that we don't normally see," said Matt Hedman, a participating Cassini scientist at the University of Idaho.

"The parts of Saturn's rings that are bright when you look at them from backyard telescopes on Earth are dark, and other parts that are typically dark glow brightly in this view."

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been exploring the Saturn system for more than 9 years with visible-light cameras and infrared and ultraviolet instruments.

"Cassini's long-term residency at the ringed planet means we've been able to observe change over nearly half a Saturn year (one Saturn year is equal to almost 30 Earth years) with a host of different tools," JPL Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker said.

"Earth looks different from season to season and Saturn does, too. We can't wait to see how those seasonal changes affect the dance of icy particles as we continue to observe Saturn's rings with all of Cassini's different 'eyes.'"

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