Even Shadowed, It’s Gorgeous
Check this image out, folks. Click on it to get the big view. It’s a backlit, seriously moody view of the ringed planet made by the Cassini spacecraft and released this week by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Space Science Institute. It’s a rare sight because it’s not often that the spacecraft’s orbit takes it to the precise point where the planet, rings, and Sun all line up perfectly to deliver a high-quality view of the rings, plus two dots in the lower left that are Enceladus (Saturn’s active moon) and Tethys (another of Saturn’s icy moons). The detail in this image is astonishing. You can see individual rings in the system, and if you peek closely, you can see them in the gaps as well. The shadow of the rings on the planet’s cloud tops is especially amazing.
Saturn was one of the first planets I saw a picture of when I was growing up. We had a book about space in the house and when I laid eyes on that weird ringy place, I was hooked! A bunch of years later, I found myself at JPL during the Voyager 2 encounter with Saturn, covering the event for a newspaper story. It was even more amazing to me than that first glimpse I had as a child. Pictures like this continually reinforce for ME that the universe is an amazing place that we need to keep exploring!
For those of you still looking for great images to put on your holiday newsletters or greeting cards, this Saturn image is a pretty good candidate. There’s also the highly popular Hubble Holiday Greeting Card page. It’s chock full of 38 nicely designed cards using Hubble Space Telescope images you can simply download and use for your greetings. I have a hard time deciding which ones to use, so for some years I’ve used every one of them.
I’ve seen people also make up their own cards using images from Spitzer Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Mars Curiosity rover, and many others. There’s some gorgeous artwork out there, provided by the cosmos and your tax dollars! So, check it out and be creative!