A slow news week drew attention to this NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day from September 4th, 2011. Taken by the Cassini probe, the photographic montage seen above was taken with the sun behind the planet, illuminating every ring and speck of dust orbiting it.
This marvelous panoramic view was created by combining a total of 165 images taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006. The full mosaic consists of three rows of nine wide-angle camera footprints; only a portion of the full mosaic is shown here. Color in the view was created by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared and clear filter images and was then adjusted to resemble natural color.
They also note that this photo reveals the existence of two new, faint rings around Saturn. It is one of the multitude of discoveries coming out of the Cassini mission.
On July 6, 2011, NASA released news of the largest electrical storm ever seen on Saturn. It stretched across the planet's northern hemisphere, covering some 4 billion square kilometres or eight times Earth's surface area, and struck with an intensity of 10 lightning strikes per second. Radio signals from the storm were received by Cassini, allowing us to listen to a storm on another planet. The storm began on Dec. 5th, 2010 and is still raging.
Meanwhile on Saturn's moon Enceladus, a June 22nd, 2011, press release revealed salt-water plumes that provide the best evidence yet for a liquid ocean flowing up to 50 kilometres beneath the icy surface. Liquid water at this depth suggests the enticing possibility of simple extraterrestrial life equivalent to terrestrial forms found around deep water hydrothermal vents. A previous release stated that the moon is releasing an astonishing amount of geothermal heat to drive these plumes. Found on Enceladus, it demonstrates that this is a possibility for any gas giant planet, which are the ones we predominately observe around foreign stars.
Also, the "little April showers" on the moon Titan are composed of methane, soaking its frigid equatorial deserts. Titan's seasonal cycle is surprisingly Earth-like but using methane in place of water, including methane lakes at the poles, methane clouds and methane rain.
The most famous thing to come out the Cassini mission, which captures the imagination of those in the world who look upon them, are the amazing images like those above. A temperature map of the moon Mimas even got some notoriety for looking a great deal like Pac-Man. NASA has put together a Cassini Images Hall of Fame and filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren has been gathering those photos, and donations, to produce an amazing video flyby of Saturn for IMAX called Outside In.
5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation
from stephen v2 on Vimeo.
To follow the Cassini Solstice Mission, visit their website here.