The Cassini probe launched several years ago by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been busy completing it’s mission of examining the area of the solar system near Saturn, sending back breathtaking images of the ringed planet and it’s moons.
The pretty light show is just a by-product.
In one unique image that was captured almost by happenstance, Cassini photographed a barely-lit crescent of Saturn from behind as light from the sun shined on it. The result is a magnificent sliver of silver light curling around the top edge of the planet; light reflected off the planet’s surface also illuminates Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, leaving an incandescent ring around the satellite while shrouding the rest of it in darkness.
There’s some impressive science that backs up the beautiful space imagery.
Titan’s atmosphere is hazy and wispy at high altitudes, and this helped to refract and bend the light shined down on it from it’s mother planet to nearly encircle the entirety of the satellite. The rest of the moon remained obscured and unlit, creating an almost perfect miniature mirror of Saturn in the captured image.
While the beauty captured in the shots might have been accidental, the position of Cassini at the time was anything but.
The probe had been attempting to capture high phase observations of Saturn and its moons in order to help identify the makeup of their atmospheres by studying the light that passes through at highly specific angles.
Certain wavelengths of light will pass through atmospheres unmolested while others will be absorbed by the materials that comprise a planetary atmosphere, and by subjecting the light that emerges from an atmosphere to analysis using spectroscopy scientists can then extrapolate what wavelengths got left behind, revealing the compounds in the atmosphere that blocked its progress.
Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for a decade now, after traveling through space and arriving in the vicinity in 2004. NASA has been receiving in valuable data – and breathtaking photos – for ten straight years, and there are high hopes for the Cassini mission to continue to bear fruit for many more years to come.
Cassini Solstice Mission Offers Breathtaking Images Of Saturn And Titan.