The Cassini mission to Saturn has given us one astonishing view of the ringed planet and its moons after another since 2004, but this is one for the books:
Is that amazing or what? And you really have to get the full-resolution, 6672×3104-pixel image to really grok the awesomeness. This image was created on October 17, 2012 by the Cassini spacecraft while Saturn was backlit by the Sun. In other words, this is Saturn’s night side. The image was taken when Cassini was looking “up” towards Saturn’s equator from an orbital latitude of about 19 degrees. The result is a stunning image of the planet’s silhouette, surrounded by the backlit rings.
There is a lot going on here and Phil Plait has a great breakdown of all of the features of the image, so I’ll refer you there. But I should like to point out that the green glow is light reflected by the rings onto Saturn’s cloud tops. In other words, forget moonlight, this is ringlight!
Another feature that is really cool is the diffuse band of light toward the bottom of the image. This is the outermost E-ring, which is the least dense and most diffuse of the rings. This ring comes courtesy of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which spews geysers of water vapor and ice as it orbits Saturn.
It’s worth mentioning that these colors aren’t real, but are a combination of infrared, red and violet spectral filters. When combined, Saturn takes on a serene, eerie hue that reveals subtle details in its atmosphere that you simply cannot get any other way.
Since the only way to obtain an image like this is when the Cassini spacecraft is directly behind Saturn, such images are very rare. The last time this sort of image was taken was back in 2006. During that encounter, images were taken using filters to create a natural-color view of the backlit planet:
And if you haven’t, you must click that image for the full view. If you look carefully, you’ll see a pale blue dot in that image on the left side just inside G-ring. That’s Earth. That’s home. That’s us.
And we made this.