An Overhead View of Saturn

On October 10, 2013, the Cassini spacecraft took an image of Saturn that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Earth:

Overhead View of Saturn
Saturn captured by Cassini in red, green, and blue-filter images on October 10, 2013. Click to enringulate. Image credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / Gordan Ugarkovic

It’s unlike any view of Saturn we’ve ever seen from Earth because it’s a view we can never see from Earth! Cassini captured Saturn and it’s rings from high above the planet’s northern hemisphere on October 10, 2013. The image shown here is actually a composite of several mosaic images of Saturn and its rings taken in red, green, and blue filters.

And what an image it is! In a rare glimpse we see Saturn as its own planet, detached from its rings. Of course, we already knew that about Saturn, but seeing it this way seems to add a whole new…well…perspective.

The image reveals some striking features of the planet. At the north pole is a 1,250 mile-(2,000 kilometers) wide vortex with wind speeds up to 330 mph (150 meters per second). There’s no land mass on Saturn to break this storm and it’s likely that it’s been there since long before Cassini ever arrived, and will probably remain there for  centuries  to come.

The storm sits at the center of a complex region known as the hexagon, shown in light blue in this image.  Each side of the hexagon is over 8,600 miles (13,800 km) in length – more than the diameter of Earth itself! For some reason though, there is no similar hexagon in Saturn’s southern hemisphere.

Looking at the rest of the image, the first thing that jumped out at me was that you could still clearly see the night side of the planet. That’s because Saturn is being illuminated by the rest of the ring system itself!

Had they been able to, I’m sure NASA would have processed the images and shared it with the public in a press release. But due to the government shutdown, no image was produced. Fortunately, the raw data is public and  Gordan Ugarkovic at created this spectacular image on his own initiative.

On a personal note, I’m extremely grateful for this image because it was taken on October 10, my birthday. So thank you Cassini, and thank you Gordan for an amazing birthday present! 🙂

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