Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 December 31
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Saturn's Rings from the Dark Side
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: What do Saturn's rings look like from the dark side? From Earth, we usually see Saturn's rings from the same side of the ring plane that the Sun illuminates them -- one might call this the bright side. Geometrically, in the above picture taken in August by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn, the Sun is behind the camera but on the other side of the ring plane. Such a vantage point gives a breathtaking views of the most splendid ring system in the Solar System. Strangely, the rings have similarities to a photographic negative of a front view. For example, the dark band in the middle is actually the normally bright B-ring. The ring brightness as recorded from different angles indicates ring thickness and particle density of ring particles. At the top left of the frame is Saturn's moon Tethys, which although harder to find, contains much more mass than the entire ring system.

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
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