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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Search Results for "Cassini"




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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 September 26 - Cassinis Last Ring Portrait at Saturn
Explanation: How should Cassini say farewell to Saturn? Three days before plunging into Saturn's sunny side, the robotic Cassini spacecraft swooped far behind Saturn's night side with cameras blazing. Thirty-six of these images have been merged -- by an alert and adept citizen scientist -- into a last full-ring portrait of Cassini's home planet for the past 13 years. The Sun is just above the frame, causing Saturn to cast a dark shadow onto its enormous rings. This shadow position cannot be imaged from Earth and will not be visible again until another Earth-launched spaceship visits the ringed giant. Data and images from Cassini's mission-ending dive into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15 continue to be analyzed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 September 16 - Cassini's Final Image
Explanation: As planned, the Cassini spacecraft impacted the upper atmosphere of Saturn on September 15, after a 13 year long exploration of the Saturnian System. With spacecraft thrusters firing until the end, its atmospheric entry followed an unprecedented series of 22 Grand Finale dives between Saturn and rings. Cassini's final signal took 83 minutes to reach planet Earth and the Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra Australia where loss of contact with the spacecraft was recorded at 11:55 UT. For the spacecraft, Saturn was bright and the Sun was overhead as it plowed into the gas giant planet's swirling cloud tops at about 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) per hour. But Cassini's final image shows the impact site hours earlier and still on the planet's night side, the cloud tops illuminated by ringlight, sunlight reflected from Saturn's rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 September 11 - Cassini Approaches Saturn
Explanation: What would it look like to approach Saturn in a spaceship? One doesn't have to just imagine -- the Cassini spacecraft did just this in 2004, recording thousands of images along the way, and hundreds of thousands more since entering orbit. Some of Cassini's early images have been digitally tweaked, cropped, and compiled into the featured inspiring video which is part of a larger developing IMAX movie project named In Saturn's Rings. In the concluding sequence, Saturn looms increasingly large on approach as cloudy Titan swoops below. With Saturn whirling around in the background, Cassini is next depicted flying over Mimas, with large Herschel Crater clearly visible. Saturn's majestic rings then take over the show as Cassini crosses Saturn's thin ring plane. Dark shadows of the ring appear on Saturn itself. Finally, the enigmatic ice-geyser moon Enceladus appears in the distance and then is approached just as the video clip ends. The Cassini spacecraft itself, low on fuel, is scheduled to end on Friday when it will be directed to approach so close to Saturn that it falls in and melts.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 September 4 - Saturn's Rings from the Inside Out
Explanation: What do Saturn's rings look like from Saturn? Images from the robotic spacecraft Cassini are providing humanity with this unprecedented vantage point as it nears the completion of its mission. Previous to Cassini's Grand Finale orbits, all images of Saturn's majestic ring system were taken from outside of the rings looking in. Pictured in the inset is the remarkable video, while the spacecraft's positions are depicted in the surrounding animation. Details of the complex rings are evident as the short time-lapse sequence begins, while the paper-thin thickness of the rings becomes apparent near the video's end. The featured images were taken on August 20. Cassini has only a few more orbits around Saturn left before it is directed to dive into the giant planet on September 15.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 August 29 - Saturn in Blue and Gold
Explanation: Why is Saturn partly blue? The featured picture of Saturn approximates what a human would see if hovering close to the giant ringed world. The image was taken in 2006 March by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Here Saturn's majestic rings appear directly only as a thin vertical line. The rings show their complex structure in the dark shadows they create on the image left. Saturn's fountain moon Enceladus, only about 500 kilometers across, is seen as the bump in the plane of the rings. The northern hemisphere of Saturn can appear partly blue for the same reason that Earth's skies can appear blue -- molecules in the cloudless portions of both planet's atmospheres are better at scattering blue light than red. When looking deep into Saturn's clouds, however, the natural gold hue of Saturn's clouds becomes dominant. It is not known why southern Saturn does not show the same blue hue -- one hypothesis holds that clouds are higher there. It is also not known why Saturn's clouds are colored gold. Next month, Cassini will end its mission with a final dramatic dive into Saturn's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 August 8 - Density Waves in Saturn's Rings from Cassini
Explanation: What causes the patterns in Saturn's rings? The Cassini spacecraft, soon ending its 13 years orbiting Saturn, has sent back another spectacular image of Saturn's immense ring system in unprecedented detail. The physical cause for some of Saturn's ring structures is not always understood. The cause for the beautifully geometric type of ring structure shown here in ring of Saturn, however, is surely a density wave. A small moon systematically perturbing the orbits of ring particles circling Saturn at slightly different distances causes such a density wave bunching. Also visible on the lower right of the image is a bending wave, a vertical wave in ring particles also caused by the gravity of a nearby moon. Cassini's final orbits are allowing a series of novel scientific measurements and images of the Solar System's most grand ring system.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 July 28 - Noodle Mosaic of Saturn
Explanation: On April 26 the Cassini spacecraft swooped toward Saturn on the first of its Grand Finale dives between Saturn and rings. In this long, thin, noodle mosaic, a rapid series of 137 low resolution images captured by Cassini's wide-angle camera track its progress across the gas giant's swirling cloud tops. The mosaic projection maps the arc along Saturn's atmospheric curve on to a flat image plane. At top, the first mosaic panel is centered at 90 degrees north, about 72,400 kilometers above Saturn's dark north polar vortex. As the mosaic progresses it narrows, the pixel scale shrinking from 8.7 kilometers to 1 kilometer per pixel. For the last panel, the spacecraft is 8,374 kilometers above a region 18 degrees north of Saturn's equator. Frame orientation changes near the bottom as Cassini rotates to maneuver its large, dish-shaped, high-gain antenna forward, providing a shield before crossing Saturn's ring plane.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 July 6 - Atlas, Daphnis, and Pan
Explanation: Atlas, Daphnis, and Pan are small, inner, ring moons of Saturn, shown at the same scale in this montage of images from the still Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft. In fact, Daphnis was discovered in Cassini images from 2005. Atlas and Pan were first sighted in images from the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. Flying saucer-shaped Atlas orbits near the outer edge of Saturn's bright A Ring while Daphnis orbits inside the A Ring's narrow Keeler Gap and Pan within the A Ring's larger Encke Gap. The curious equatorial ridges of the small ring moons could be built up by the accumulation of ring material over time. Even diminutive Daphnis makes waves in the ring material as it glides along the edge of the Keeler Gap.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 22 - Northern Summer on Titan
Explanation: While yesterday's solstice brought summer to planet Earth's northern hemisphere, a northern summer solstice arrived for ringed planet Saturn nearly a month ago on May 24. Following the Saturnian seasons, its large moon Titan was captured in this Cassini spacecraft image from June 9. The near-infrared view finds bright methane clouds drifting through Titan's northern summer skies as seen from a distance of about 507,000 kilometers. Below Titan's clouds, dark hydrocarbon lakes sprawl near the large moon's now illuminated north pole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 18 - Views from Cassini at Saturn
Explanation: What has the Cassini orbiter seen at Saturn? The featured music video shows some of the early highlights. In the first time-lapse sequence (00:07), a vertical line appears that is really Saturn's thin rings seen nearly edge-on. Soon some of Saturn's moon shoot past. The next sequence (00:11) features Saturn's unusually wavy F-ring that is constrained by the two shepherd moons that are also continually perturbing it. Soon much of Saturn's extensive ring system flashes by, sometimes juxtaposed to the grandeur of the immense planet itself. Cloud patterns on Titan (00:39) and Saturn (00:41) are highlighted. Clips from flybys of several of Saturn's moon are then shown, including Phoebe, Mimas, Epimetheus, and Iapetus. In other sequences, moons of Saturn appear to pass each other as they orbit Saturn. Background star fields seen by Cassini are sometimes intruded upon by bright passing moons. The robotic Cassini spacecraft has been revolutionizing humanity's knowledge of Saturn and its moons since 2004. In September, Cassini's mission will be brought to a dramatic conclusion as the spacecraft will be directed to dive into ringed giant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 17 - Saturn near Opposition
Explanation: Saturn reached its 2017 opposition on June 16. Of course, opposition means opposite the Sun in Earth's sky and near opposition Saturn is up all night, at its closest and brightest for the year. This remarkably sharp image of the ringed planet was taken only days before, on June 11, with a 1-meter telescope from the mountain top Pic du Midi observatory. North is at the top with the giant planet's north polar storm and curious hexagon clearly seen bathed in sunlight. But Saturn's spectacular ring system is also shown in stunning detail. The narrow Encke division is visible around the entire outer A ring, small ringlets can be traced within the fainter inner C ring, and Saturn's southern hemisphere can be glimpsed through the wider Cassini division. Near opposition Saturn's rings also appear exceptionally bright, known as the opposition surge or Seeliger Effect. Directly illuminated from Earth's perspective, the ring's icy particles cast no shadows and strongly backscatter sunlight creating the dramatic increase in brightness. Still, the best views of the ringed planet are currently from the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft. Diving close, Cassini's Grand Finale orbit number 9 is in progress.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 10 - Saturn in the Milky Way
Explanation: Saturn is near opposition in planet Earth's sky. Rising at sunset and shining brightly throughout the night, it also lies near a line-of-sight to crowded starfields, nebulae, and obscuring dust clouds along the Milky Way. Whitish Saturn is up and left of center in this gorgeous central Milky Way skyscape, a two panel mosaic recorded earlier this month. You can find the bright planet above the bowl of the dusty Pipe nebula, and just beyond the end of a dark river to Antares, alpha star of the constellation Scorpius. For now the best views of the ringed giant planet are from the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft, though. Diving close, Cassini's Grand Finale orbit number 8 is in progress.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 April 30 - Cassini Looks Out from Saturn
Explanation: This is what Saturn looks like from inside the rings. Last week, for the first time, NASA directed the Cassini spacecraft to swoop between Saturn and its rings. During the dive, the robotic spacecraft took hundreds of images showing unprecedented detail for structures in Saturn's atmosphere. Looking back out, however, the spacecraft was also able to capture impressive vistas. In the featured image taken a few hours before closest approach, Saturn's unusual northern hexagon is seen surrounding the North Pole. Saturn's B ring is the closest visible, while the dark Cassini Division separates B from the outer A. A close inspection will find the two small moons that shepherd the F-ring, the farthest ring discernable. This image is raw and will be officially verified, calibrated and released at a later date. Cassini remains on schedule to end its mission by plunging into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 April 22 - Between the Rings
Explanation: On April 12, as the Sun was blocked by the disk of Saturn the Cassini spacecraft camera looked toward the inner Solar System and the gas giant's backlit rings. At the top of the mosaicked view is the A ring with its broader Encke and narrower Keeler gaps visible. At the bottom is the F ring, bright due to the viewing geometry. The point of light between the rings is Earth, 1.4 billion kilometers in the distance. Look carefully and you can even spot Earth's large moon, a pinprick of light to the planet's left. Today Cassini makes its final close approach to Saturn's own large moon Titan, using Titan's gravity to swing into the spacecraft's Grand Finale, the final set of orbits that will bring Cassini just inside Saturn's rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 April 3 - Saturn in Infrared from Cassini
Explanation: Many details of Saturn appear clearly in infrared light. Bands of clouds show great structure, including long stretching storms. Also quite striking in infrared is the unusual hexagonal cloud pattern surrounding Saturn's North Pole. Each side of the dark hexagon spans roughly the width of our Earth. The hexagon's existence was not predicted, and its origin and likely stability remains a topic of research. Saturn's famous rings circle the planet and cast shadows below the equator. The featured image was taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in 2014 in several infrared colors -- but only processed recently. In September, Cassini's mission will be brought to a dramatic conclusion as the spacecraft will be directed to dive into ringed giant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 16 - Mimas in Saturnlight
Explanation: Peering from the shadows, the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Mimas lies in near darkness alongside a dramatic sunlit crescent. The mosaic was captured near the Cassini spacecraft's final close approach on January 30, 2017. Cassini's camera was pointed in a nearly sunward direction only 45,000 kilometers from Mimas. The result is one of the highest resolution views of the icy, crater-pocked, 400 kilometer diameter moon. An enhanced version better reveals the Saturn-facing hemisphere of the synchronously rotating moon lit by sunlight reflected from Saturn itself. To see it, slide your cursor over the image (or follow this link). Other Cassini images of Mimas include the small moon's large and ominous Herschel Crater.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 13 - Saturn's Moon Pan from Cassini
Explanation: Why does Saturn's moon Pan look so odd? Images taken last week from the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn have resolved the moon in unprecedented detail. The surprising images reveal a moon that looks something like a walnut with a slab through its middle. Other visible features on Pan include rolling terrain, long ridges, and a few craters. Spanning 30-kilometer across, Pan orbits inside the 300-kilometer wide Encke Gap of Saturn's expansive A-ring, a gap known since the late 1800s. Next month, Cassini will be directed to pass near Saturn's massive moon Titan so it can be pulled into a final series of orbits that will take it, on occasion, completely inside Saturn's rings and prepare it to dive into Saturn's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 22 - Daphnis and the Rings of Saturn
Explanation: What's happening to the rings of Saturn? Nothing much, just a little moon making waves. The moon is 8-kilometer Daphnis and it is making waves in the Keeler Gap of Saturn's rings using just its gravity -- as it bobs up and down, in and out. The featured image is a wide-field version of a previously released image taken last month by the robotic Cassini spacecraft during one of its new Grand Finale orbits. Daphnis can be seen on the far right, sporting ridges likely accumulated from ring particles. Daphnis was discovered in Cassini images in 2005 and raised mounds of ring particles so high in 2009 -- during Saturn's equinox when the ring plane pointed directly at the Sun -- that they cast notable shadows.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 9 - Crescent Enceladus
Explanation: Peering from the shadows, the Saturn-facing hemisphere of tantalizing inner moon Enceladus poses in this Cassini spacecraft image. North is up in the dramatic scene captured last November as Cassini's camera was pointed in a nearly sunward direction about 130,000 kilometers from the moon's bright crescent. In fact, the distant world reflects over 90 percent of the sunlight it receives, giving its surface about the same reflectivity as fresh snow. A mere 500 kilometers in diameter, Enceladus is a surprisingly active moon. Data collected during Cassini's flybys and years of images have revealed the presence of remarkable south polar geysers and a possible global ocean of liquid water beneath an icy crust.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 5 - Odysseus Crater on Tethys
Explanation: Some moons wouldn't survive the collision. Tethys, one of Saturn's larger moons at about 1000 kilometers in diameter, survived the collision, but today exhibits the resulting expansive impact crater Odysseus. Sometimes called the Great Basin, Odysseus occurs on the leading hemisphere of Tethys and shows its great age by the relative amount of smaller craters that occur inside its towering walls. The density of Tethys is similar to water-ice. The featured image was captured in November by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn as it swooped past the giant ice ball. Cassini has now started on its Grand Finale Tour which will take it inside Saturn's rings and culminate in September with a dive into Saturn's thick atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 January 25 - Cassini's Grand Finale Tour at Saturn
Explanation: Cassini is being prepared to dive into Saturn. The robotic spacecraft that has been orbiting and exploring Saturn for over a decade will end its mission in September with a spectacular atmospheric plunge. Pictured here is a diagram of Cassini's remaining orbits, each taking about one week. Cassini is scheduled to complete a few months of orbits that will take it just outside Saturn's outermost ring F. Then, in April, Titan will give Cassini a gravitational pull into Proximal orbits, the last of which, on September 15, will impact Saturn and cause the spacecraft to implode and melt. Cassini's Grand Finale orbits are designed to record data and first-ever views from inside the rings -- between the rings and planet -- as well as some small moons interspersed in the rings. Cassini's demise is designed to protect any life that may occur around Saturn or its moons from contamination by Cassini itself.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 January 21 - Daphnis the Wavemaker
Explanation: Plunging close to the outer edges of Saturn's rings, on January 16 the Cassini spacecraft captured this closest yet view of Daphnis. About 8 kilometers across and orbiting within the bright ring system's Keeler gap, the small moon is making waves. The 42-kilometer wide outer gap is foreshortened in the image by Cassini's viewing angle. Raised by the influenced of the small moon's weak gravity as it crosses the frame from left to right, the waves are formed in the ring material at the edge of the gap. A faint wave-like trace of ring material is just visible trailing close behind Daphnis. Remarkable details on Daphnis can also be seen, including a narrow ridge around its equator, likely an accumulation of particles from the ring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 12 - Over Saturn's Turbulent North Pole
Explanation: The Cassini spacecraft's Grand Finale at Saturn has begun. The Grand Finale will allow Cassini to explore Saturn and some of Saturn's moons and rings in unprecedented detail. The first phase started two weeks ago when a close flyby of Titan changed Cassini's orbit into one that passes near Saturn's poles and just outside of Saturn's outermost F-ring. Featured here is an image taken during the first of Cassini's 20 week-long F-ring orbits around Saturn. Visible are the central polar vortex on the upper left, a hexagonal cloud boundary through the image center, and numerous light-colored turbulent storm systems. In 2017 April, Cassini will again use the gravity of Titan to begin a new series of 22 Proximal orbits -- trajectories that will take Cassini inside of Saturn's rings for the first time. Cassini's new science adventure is scheduled to end on 2017 September 17, though, when the robotic spacecraft will be directed into a dramatic mission-ending dive into Saturn's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 November 24 - Ring Scan
Explanation: Scroll right and you can cruise along the icy rings of Saturn. This high resolution scan is a mosaic of images presented in natural color. The images were recorded in May 2007 over about 2.5 hours as the Cassini spacecraft passed above the unlit side of the rings. To help track your progress, major rings and gaps are labeled along with the distance from the center of the gas giant in kilometers. The alphabetical designation of Saturn's rings is historically based on their order of discovery; rings A and B are the bright rings separated by the Cassini division. In order of increasing distance from Saturn, the seven main rings run D,C,B,A,F,G,E. (Faint, outer rings G and E are not imaged here.) Four days from now, on November 29, Cassini will make a close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan and use the large moon's gravity to nudge the spacecraft into a series of 20 daring, elliptical, ring-grazing orbits. Diving through the ring plane just 11,000 kilometers outside the F ring (far right) Cassini's first ring-graze will be on December 4.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 August 7 - Io: Moon over Jupiter
Explanation: How big is Jupiter's moon Io? The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced "EYE-oh") is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth's single large natural satellite. Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet's relative size. Although in the featured picture Io appears to be located just in front of the swirling Jovian clouds, Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts Io nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon. In July, NASA's Juno satellite began orbiting Jupiter and will sometimes swoop to within 5,000 kilometers of Jupiter's cloud tops.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 August 1 - Behind Saturn
Explanation: What's behind Saturn? The first answer is the camera itself, perched on the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting behind the planet with the most grand ring system in our Solar System. The unusual perspective places Cassini on the far side of Saturn from the Sun so that more than half of Saturn appears dark -- a perspective that no Earth-based observer could achieve. Behind Saturn, in the context of the featured infrared image, is Saturn's moon Tethys, visible as the small speck above the unusual hexagonal cloud pattern that encompasses Saturn's North Pole. Tethys actually orbits Saturn right in the ring plane, which places the 1000-km moon much farther from Cassini than the planet itself. Cassini has been studying Saturn and its moons for 12 years, but, unfortunately, its amazing mission will soon come to an end. In order to protect life that may exist on or inside Saturn's moons, the robotic spacecraft will be directed to crash into Saturn's thick atmosphere next September.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 10 - Cassini Approaches Saturn
Explanation: Cassini, a robot spacecraft launched in 1997 by NASA, became close enough in 2002 to resolve many rings and moons of its destination planet: Saturn. At that time, Cassini snapped several images during an engineering test. Several of those images were combined into the contrast-enhanced color composite featured here. Saturn's rings and cloud-tops are visible toward the image bottom, while Titan, its largest moon, is visible as the speck toward the top. When arriving at Saturn in July 2004, the Cassini orbiter began to circle and study the Saturnian system. A highlight was when Cassini launched the Huygens probe that made an unprecedented landing on Titan in 2005, sending back detailed pictures. Now nearing the end of its mission, Cassini is scheduled to embark on a Grand Finale phase in late 2016 where it will repeatedly dive between the giant planet and its innermost rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 7 - Mystery Feature Now Disappears in Titan Lake
Explanation: What is that changing object in a cold hydrocarbon sea of Titan? Radar images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn have been recording the surface of the cloud-engulfed moon Titan for years. When imaging the flat -- and hence radar dark -- surface of the methane and ethane lake called Ligeia Mare, an object appeared in 2013 July just was not there in 2007. Subsequent observations in 2014 August found the object remained -- but had changed. In an image released last week, the mystery object seems to have disappeared in 2015 January. The featured false-color image shows how the 20-km long object has come, changed, and gone. Current origin speculative explanations include waves, bubbling foam and floating solids, but still no one is sure. Future observations, in particular Cassini's final close flyby of Titan in 2017 April, may either resolve the enigma or open up more speculation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 December 3 - Enceladus: Ringside Water World
Explanation: Saturn's icy moon Enceladus poses above the gas giant's icy rings in this Cassini spacecraft image. The dramatic scene was captured on July 29, while Cassini cruised just below the ring plane, its cameras looking back in a nearly sunward direction about 1 million kilometers from the moon's bright crescent. At 500 kilometers in diameter, Enceladus is a surprisingly active moon though, its remarkable south polar geysers are visible venting beyond a dark southern limb. In fact, data collected during Cassini's flybys and years of images have recently revealed the presence of a global ocean of liquid water beneath this moon's icy crust. Demonstrating the tantalizing liquid layer's global extent, the careful analysis indicates surface and core are not rigidly connected, with Enceladus rocking slightly back and forth in its orbit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 September 20 - Global Ocean Suspected on Saturn's Enceladus
Explanation: Do some surface features on Enceladus roll like a conveyor belt? A leading interpretation of images taken of Saturn's most explosive moon indicate that they do. This form of asymmetric tectonic activity, very unusual on Earth, likely holds clues to the internal structure of Enceladus, which may contain subsurface seas where life might be able to develop. Pictured above is a composite of 28 images taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in 2008 just after swooping by the ice-spewing orb. Inspection of these images show clear tectonic displacements where large portions of the surface all appear to move all in one direction. On the image right appears one of the most prominent tectonic divides: Labtayt Sulci, a canyon about one kilometer deep. The magnitude of Enceladus' wobble as it orbits Saturn might indicate damping by a globally extending underground ocean layer.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 24 - Dione, Rings, Shadows, Saturn
Explanation: What's happening in this strange juxtaposition of moon and planet? First and foremost, Saturn's moon Dione was captured here in a dramatic panorama by the robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting the giant planet. The bright and cratered moon itself spans about 1100-km, with the large multi-ringed crater Evander visible on the lower right. Since the rings of Saturn are seen here nearly edge-on, they are directly visible only as a thin horizontal line that passes behind Dione. Arcing across the bottom of the image, however, are shadows of Saturn's rings, showing some of the rich texture that could not be seen directly. In the background, few cloud features are visible on Saturn. The featured image was taken during the last planned flyby of Dione by Cassini, as the spacecraft is scheduled to dive into Saturn's atmosphere during 2017.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 3 - Flyby Image of Saturn's Sponge Moon Hyperion
Explanation: Why does this moon look like a sponge? To better investigate, NASA and ESA sent the Saturn-orbiting robotic spacecraft Cassini zooming past Saturn's moon Hyperion, once again, earlier this week. One of the images beamed back to Earth is featured above, raw and unprocessed. Visible, as expected, are many unusually shaped craters with an unusual dark material at the bottom. Although Hyperion spans about 250 kilometers, its small gravitational tug on Cassini indicates that it is mostly empty space and so has very low surface gravity. Therefore, the odd shapes of many of Hyperion's craters are thought to result from impacts that primarily compress and eject surface material -- instead of the more typical round craters that appear after a circular shock wave that explosively redistributes surface material. Cassini is on track for another flyby of Saturn's Dione in about two weeks.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 5 - Saturn, Tethys, Rings, and Shadows
Explanation: Seen from ice moon Tethys, rings and shadows would display fantastic views of the Saturnian system. Haven't dropped in on Tethys lately? Then this gorgeous ringscape from the Cassini spacecraft will have to do for now. Caught in sunlight just below and left of picture center in 2005, Tethys itself is about 1,000 kilometers in diameter and orbits not quite five saturn-radii from the center of the gas giant planet. At that distance (around 300,000 kilometers) it is well outside Saturn's main bright rings, but Tethys is still one of five major moons that find themselves within the boundaries of the faint and tenuous outer E ring. Discovered in the 1980s, two very small moons Telesto and Calypso are locked in stable locations along Tethys' orbit. Telesto precedes and Calypso follows Tethys as the trio circles Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 2 - Titan Seas Reflect Sunlight
Explanation: Why would the surface of Titan light up with a blinding flash? The reason: a sunglint from liquid seas. Saturn's moon Titan has numerous smooth lakes of methane that, when the angle is right, reflect sunlight as if they were mirrors. Pictured here in false-color, the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn imaged the cloud-covered Titan last summer in different bands of cloud-piercing infrared light. This specular reflection was so bright it saturated one of Cassini's infrared cameras. Although the sunglint was annoying -- it was also useful. The reflecting regions confirm that northern Titan houses a wide and complex array of seas with a geometry that indicates periods of significant evaporation. During its numerous passes of our Solar System's most mysterious moon, Cassini has revealed Titan to be a world with active weather -- including times when it rains a liquefied version of natural gas.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 January 16 - Huygens Lands on Titan
Explanation: Delivered by Saturn-bound Cassini, ESA's Huygens probe touched down on the ringed planet's largest moon Titan, ten years ago on January 14, 2005. These panels show fisheye images made during its slow descent by parachute through Titan's dense atmosphere. Taken by the probe's descent imager/spectral radiometer instrument they range in altitude from 6 kilometers (upper left) to 0.2 kilometers (lower right) above the moon's surprisingly Earth-like surface of dark channels, floodplains, and bright ridges. But at temperatures near -290 degrees F (-180 degrees C), the liquids flowing across Titan's surface are methane and ethane, hydrocarbons rather than water. After making the most distant landing for a spacecraft from Earth, Huygens transmitted data for more than an hour. The Huygens data and a decade of exploration by Cassini have shown Titan to be a tantalizing world hosting a complex chemistry of organic compounds, dynamic landforms, lakes, seas, and a possible subsurface ocean of liquid water.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 January 4 - Crescent Rhea Occults Crescent Saturn
Explanation: Soft hues, partially lit orbs, a thin trace of the ring, and slight shadows highlight this understated view of the majestic surroundings of the giant planet Saturn. Looking nearly back toward the Sun, the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn captured crescent phases of Saturn and its moon Rhea in color a few years ago. As striking as the above image is, it is but a single frame from a 60-frame silent movie where Rhea can be seen gliding in front of its parent world. Since Cassini was nearly in the plane of Saturn's rings, the normally impressive rings are visible here only as a thin line across the image center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 24 - Soaring over Titan
Explanation: What would it look like to fly over Titan? Radar images from NASA's robotic Cassini satellite in orbit around Saturn have been digitally compiled to simulate such a flight. Cassini has swooped past Saturn's cloudiest moon several times since it arrived at the ringed planet in 2004. The virtual flight featured here shows numerous lakes colored black and mountainous terrain colored tan. Surface regions without detailed vertical information appear more flat, while sufficiently mapped regions have their heights digitally stretched. Among the basins visualized is Kraken Mare, Titan's largest lake which spans over 1,000 kilometers long. Titan's lakes are different from Earth's lakes in that they are composed of hydrocarbons with similarities to liquid natural gas. How Titan's lakes were created and why they survive continues to be a topic of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 7 - The Map of Dione
Explanation: This cylindrical projection global map is one of six new color maps of Saturn's midsized icy moons, constructed using 10 years of image data from the Cassini spacecraft. Discovered by Cassini (the astronomer) in 1684, Dione is about 1,120 kilometers across. Based on data extending from infrared to ultraviolet, the full resolution of this latest space-age map is 250 meters per pixel. The remarkable brightness difference between the tidally locked moon's lighter leading hemisphere (right) and darker trailing hemisphere clearly stands out. Like other Saturn moons orbiting within the broad E-ring, Dione's leading hemisphere is kept shiny as it picks up a coating of the faint ring's icy material. The E-ring material is constantly replenished by geysers on moon Enceladus' south pole. Lighter, younger surface fractures also appear to cross the dark, cratered trailing hemisphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 2 - Titan Beyond the Rings
Explanation: When orbiting Saturn, be sure to watch for breathtaking superpositions of moons and rings. One such picturesque vista was visible recently to the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. In 2006 April, Cassini captured Saturn's A and F rings stretching in front of cloud-shrouded Titan. Near the rings and appearing just above Titan was Epimetheus, a moon which orbits just outside the F ring. The dark space in the A ring is called the Encke Gap, although several thin knotted ringlets and even the small moon Pan orbit there.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 15 - Mysterious Changing feature on Titan
Explanation: What is that changing object in a cold hydrocarbon sea of Titan? Radar images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn have been recording the surface of the cloud-engulfed moon Titan for years. When imaging the flat -- and hence radar dark -- surface of the methane and ethane lake called Ligeia Mare, an object appeared in 2013 just was not there in 2007. Subsequent observations in 2014 found the object remained -- but had changed! The featured image shows how the 20-km long object has appeared and evolved. Current origin speculative explanations include bubbling foam and floating solids, but no one is sure. Future observations may either resolve the enigma or open up more speculation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 August 6 - Saturn's Swirling Cloudscape
Explanation: Acquiring its first sunlit views of far northern Saturn in late 2012, the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera recorded this stunning, false-color image of the ringed planet's north pole. The composite of near-infrared image data results in red hues for low clouds and green for high ones, giving the Saturnian cloudscape a vivid appearance. Enormous by terrestrial standards, Saturn's north polar hurricane-like storm is deep, red, and about 2,000 kilometers wide. Clouds at its outer edge travel at over 500 kilometers per hour. Other atmospheric vortices also swirl inside the large, yellowish green, six-sided jet stream known as the hexagon. Beyond the cloud tops at the upper right, arcs of the planet's eye-catching rings appear bright blue.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 June 22 - Persistent Saturnian Auroras
Explanation: Are Saturn's auroras like Earth's? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn's South Pole simultaneously as Cassini closed in on the gas giant in January 2004. Hubble snapped images in ultraviolet light, while Cassini recorded radio emissions and monitored the solar wind. Like on Earth, Saturn's auroras make total or partial rings around magnetic poles. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn's auroras persist for days, as opposed to only minutes on Earth. Although surely created by charged particles entering the atmosphere, Saturn's auroras also appear to be more closely modulated by the solar wind than either Earth's or Jupiter's auroras. The above sequence shows three Hubble images of Saturn each taken two days apart.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 February 23 - Cassini Spacecraft Crosses Saturns Ring Plane
Explanation: If this is Saturn, where are the rings? When Saturn's "appendages" disappeared in 1612, Galileo did not understand why. Later that century, it became understood that Saturn's unusual protrusions were rings and that when the Earth crosses the ring plane, the edge-on rings will appear to disappear. This is because Saturn's rings are confined to a plane many times thinner, in proportion, than a razor blade. In modern times, the robot Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn now also crosses Saturn's ring plane. A series of plane crossing images from 2005 February was dug out of the vast online Cassini raw image archive by interested Spanish amateur Fernando Garcia Navarro. Pictured above, digitally cropped and set in representative colors, is the striking result. Saturn's thin ring plane appears in blue, bands and clouds in Saturn's upper atmosphere appear in gold. Details of Saturn's rings can be seen in the high dark shadows across the top of this image, taken back in 2005. Moons appear as bumps in the rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 December 20 - Titan's Land of Lakes
Explanation: Saturn's large moon Titan would be unique in our solar system, the only world with stable liquid lakes and seas on its surface ... except for planet Earth of course. Centered on the north pole, this colorized map shows Titan's bodies of methane and ethane in blue and black, still liquid at frigid surface temperatures of -180 degrees C (-292 degrees F). The map is based on data from the Cassini spacecraft's radar, taken during flybys between 2004 and 2013. Roughly heart-shaped, the lake above and right of the pole is Ligeia Mare, the second largest known body of liquid on Titan and larger than Lake Superior on Earth. Just below the north pole is Punga Mare. The sprawling sea below and right of Punga is the (hopefully sleeping) Kraken Mare, Titan's largest known sea. Above and left of the pole, the moon's surface is dotted with smaller lakes that range up to 50 kilometers across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 13 - In the Shadow of Saturn
Explanation: In the shadow of Saturn, unexpected wonders appear. The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn drifted in giant planet's shadow earlier this year and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a unique and celebrated view. First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, Saturn's expansive ring system appears as majestic as always even from this odd angle. Ring particles, many glowing only as irregular crescents, slightly scatter sunlight toward Cassini in this natural color image. Several moons and ring features are also discernible. Appearing quite prominently is Saturn's E ring, the ring created by the unusual ice-fountains of the moon Enceladus and the outermost ring visible above. To the upper left, far in the distance, are the planets Mars and Venus. To the lower right, however, is perhaps the most wondrous spectacle of all: the almost invisible, nearly ignorable, pale blue dot of Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 24 - Earth Waves at Saturn
Explanation: This friendly photo collage is constructed from more than 1,400 images shared by denizens of planet Earth as part of the Cassini Mission's July 19th Wave at Saturn event. The base picture of Earth corresponds to the view from the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft on that date, when its own cameras recorded images including planet Earth as a pale blue dot in the background. Of course, Saturn was 9.65 Astronomical Units away at the time, so it took light from all the waving Earth dwellers just over 80 minutes to travel there. Want to smile? Download and zoom in to the full-resolution (28MB jpg file) collage image available here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 23 - Two Views of Earth
Explanation: In a cross-Solar System interplanetary first, our Earth was photographed during the same day from both Mercury and Saturn. Pictured on the left, Earth is the pale blue dot just below the rings of Saturn, as captured by the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting the gas giant. Pictured on the right, the Earth-Moon system is seen against a dark background, as captured by the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft now orbiting Mercury. In the MESSENGER image, the Earth (left) and Moon (right) shine brightly with reflected sunlight. MESSENGER took the overexposed image last Friday as part of a search for small natural satellites of the innermost planet, moons that would be expected to be quite dim. During this same day, humans across planet Earth snapped many of their own pictures of Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 22 - Earth and Moon from Saturn
Explanation: You are here. Everyone you've ever known is here. Every human who has ever lived -- is here. Pictured above is the Earth-Moon system as captured by the Cassini mission orbiting Saturn in the outer Solar System. Earth is the brighter and bluer of the two spots near the center, while the Moon is visible to its lower right. Images of Earth from Saturn were taken on Friday. Quickly released unprocessed images were released Saturday showing several streaks that are not stars but rather cosmic rays that struck the digital camera while it was taking the image. The above processed image was released earlier today. At nearly the same time, many humans on Earth were snapping their own pictures of Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 19 - Take a Picture of Saturn
Explanation: Take a picture of Saturn in the sky tonight. You could capture a view like this one. Recorded just last month looking toward the south, planet Earth and ruins of the ancient temple of Athena at Assos, Turkey are in the foreground. The Moon rises at the far left of the frame and Saturn is the bright "star" at the upper right, near Virgo's alpha star Spica (picture with labels). If you do take a picture of Saturn or wave at Saturn and take a picture, you can share it online and submit it to the Saturn Mosaic Project. Why take a picture tonight? Because the Cassini spacecraft will be orbiting Saturn and taking a picture of you.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 2 - Saturn Hurricane
Explanation: Acquiring its first sunlit views of far northern Saturn late last year, the Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera recorded this stunning image of the vortex at the ringed planet's north pole. The false color, near-infrared image results in red hues for low clouds and green for high ones, causing the north-polar hurricane to take on the appearance of a rose. Enormous by terrestrial hurricane standards, this storm's eye is about 2,000 kilometers wide, with clouds at the outer edge traveling at over 500 kilometers per hour. The north pole Saturn hurricane swirls inside the large, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon. Of course, in 2006 Cassini also imaged the hurricane at Saturn's south pole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 March 29 - Ringside with Rhea
Explanation: Orbiting in the plane of Saturn's rings, Saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gas giant planet. Of course, while passing near the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The thin rings themselves slice across the middle of this Cassini snapshot from April 2011. The scene looks toward the dark night side of Saturn, in the frame at the left, and the still sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane. Centered, over 1,500 kilometers across, Rhea is Saturn's second largest moon and is closest to the spacecraft, around 2.2 million kilometers away. To Rhea's right, shiny, 500 kilometer diameter Enceladus is about 3 million kilometers distant. Dione, 1,100 kilometers wide, is 3.1 million kilometers from Cassini's camera on the left, partly blocked by Saturn's night side.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 22 - Saturn at Night
Explanation: Splendors seldom seen are revealed in this glorious picture from Saturn's shadow. Imaged by Cassini on October 17, 2012 during its 174th orbit, the ringed planet's night side is viewed from a perspective 19 degrees below the ring plane at a distance of about 800,000 kilometers with the Sun almost directly behind the planet. A 60 frame mosaic, images made with infrared, red, and violet filters were combined to create an enhanced, false-color view. Strongly backlit, the rings look bright away from the planet but dark in silhouette against the gas giant. Above center, they reflect a faint, eerie light on the cloud tops while Saturn casts its own dark shadow on the rings. A similar Cassini image from 2006 also featured planet Earth as a pale blue dot in the distance. Instead, this scene includes icy moons Enceladus (closer to the rings) and Tethys below the rings on the left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 4 - In the Center of Saturn's North Polar Vortex
Explanation: What's happening at the north pole of Saturn? A vortex of strange and complex swirling clouds. The center of this vortex was imaged in unprecedented detail last week by the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. These clouds lie at the center of the unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds the north pole of Saturn. The sun rose on Saturn's north pole just a few years ago, with Cassini taking only infrared images of the shadowed region previously. The above image is raw and unprocessed and is being prepared for release in 2013. Several similar images of the region have recently been condensed into a movie. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 September 16 - Saturn: Bright Tethys and Ancient Rings
Explanation: How old are Saturn's rings? No one is quite sure. One possibility is that the rings formed relatively recently in our Solar System's history, perhaps only about 100 million years ago when a moon-sized object broke up near Saturn. Evidence for a young ring age includes a basic stability analysis for rings, and the fact that the rings are so bright and relatively unaffected by numerous small dark meteor impacts. More recent evidence, however, raises the possibility that some of Saturn's rings may be billions of years old and so almost as old as Saturn itself. Inspection of images by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft indicates that some of Saturn's ring particles temporarily bunch and collide, effectively recycling ring particles by bringing fresh bright ices to the surface. Seen here, Saturn's rings were imaged in their true colors by the robotic Cassini in late October. Icy bright Tethys, a moon of Saturn likely brightened by a sandblasting rain of ice from sister moon Enceladus, is visible in front of the darker rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 24 - South Polar Vortex Discovered on Titan
Explanation: What's happening over the south pole of Titan? A vortex of haze appears to be forming, although no one is sure why. The above natural-color image shows the light-colored feature. The vortex was found on images taken last month when the robotic Cassini spacecraft flew by the unusual atmosphere-shrouded moon of Saturn. Cassini was only able to see the southern vortex because its orbit around Saturn was recently boosted out of the plane where the rings and moons move. Clues as to what created the enigmatic feature are accumulating, including that Titan's air appears to be sinking in the center and rising around the edges. Winter, however, is slowly descending on the south of Titan, so that the vortex, if it survives, will be plunged into darkness over the next few years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 21 - A Close Pass of Saturn's Moon Dione
Explanation: What's that past Dione? When making its closest pass yet of Saturn's moon Dione late last year, the robotic Cassini spacecraft snapped this far-ranging picture featuring Dione, Saturn's rings, and the two small moons Epimetheus and Prometheus. The above image captures part of the heavily cratered snow-white surface of the 1,100 kilometer wide Dione, the thinness of Saturn's rings, and the comparative darkness of the smaller moon Epimetheus. The image was taken when Cassini was only about 100,000 kilometers from the large icy moon. Future events in Cassini's continuing exploration of Saturn and its moons include tomorrow's flyby of Titan and imaging the distant Earth passing behind Saturn in June.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 April 8 - Io: Moon Over Jupiter
Explanation: How big is Jupiter's moon Io? The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced "EYE-oh") is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth's single large natural satellite. Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet's relative size. Although in the above picture Io appears to be located just in front of the swirling Jovian clouds, Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts Io nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon. The Cassini spacecraft itself was about 10 million kilometers from Jupiter when recording the image data.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 22 - Saturn's Hexagon Comes to Light
Explanation: Believe it or not, this is the North Pole of Saturn. It is unclear how an unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds Saturn's north pole was created, keeps its shape, or how long it will last. Originally discovered during the Voyager flybys of Saturn in the 1980s, nobody has ever seen anything like it elsewhere in the Solar System. Although its infrared glow was visible previously to the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn, in 2009 the mysterious hexagonal vortex became fully illuminated by sunlight for the first time during the Cassini's visit. Since then, Cassini has imaged the rotating hexagon in visible light enough times to create a time-lapse movie. The pole center was not well imaged and has been excluded. This movie shows many unexpected cloud motions, such as waves emanating from the corners of the hexagon. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 13 - Saturns Iapetus: Painted Moon
Explanation: What has happened to Saturn's moon Iapetus? Vast sections of this strange world are dark as coal, while others are as bright as ice. The composition of the dark material is unknown, but infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of carbon. Iapetus also has an unusual equatorial ridge that makes it appear like a walnut. To help better understand this seemingly painted moon, NASA directed the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop within 2,000 kilometers in 2007. Pictured above, from about 75,000 kilometers out, Cassini's trajectory allowed unprecedented imaging of the hemisphere of Iapetus that is always trailing. A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers and appears superposed on an older crater of similar size. The dark material is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike. Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon's equator and is less than a meter thick. A leading hypothesis is that the dark material is mostly dirt leftover when relatively warm but dirty ice sublimates. An initial coating of dark material may have been effectively painted on by the accretion of meteor-liberated debris from other moons. This and other images from Cassini's Iapetus flyby are being studied for even greater clues.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 5 - Ringside with Titan and Dione
Explanation: Orbiting in the plane of Saturn's rings, Saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gorgeous gas giant planet. Of course, while passing near the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The rings themselves can be seen slicing across the middle of this Cassini snapshot from May of last year. The scene features Titan, largest, and Dione, third largest moon of Saturn. Remarkably thin, the bright rings still cast arcing shadows across the planet's cloud tops at the bottom of the frame. Pale Dione is about 1,100 kilometers across and orbits over 300,000 kilometers from the visible outer edge of the A ring. Dione is seen through Titan's atmospheric haze. At 5,150 kilometers across, Titan is about 2.3 million kilometers from Cassini, while Dione is 3.2 million kilometers away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 December 26 - A Raging Storm System on Saturn
Explanation: It is one of the largest and longest lived storms ever recorded in our Solar System. First seen late last year, the above cloud formation in the northern hemisphere of Saturn started larger than the Earth and soon spread completely around the planet. The storm has been tracked not only from Earth but from up close by the robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. Pictured above in false colored infrared in February, orange colors indicate clouds deep in the atmosphere, while light colors highlight clouds higher up. The rings of Saturn are seen nearly edge-on as the thin blue horizontal line. The warped dark bands are the shadows of the rings cast onto the cloud tops by the Sun to the upper left. A source of radio noise from lightning, the intense storm may relate to seasonal changes as spring slowly emerges in the north of Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 12 - Saturn: Shadows of a Seasonal Sundial
Explanation: Saturn's rings form one of the larger sundials known. This sundial, however, determines only the season of Saturn, not the time of day. In 2009, during Saturn's last equinox, Saturn's thin rings threw almost no shadows onto Saturn, since the ring plane pointed directly toward the Sun. As Saturn continued in its orbit around the Sun, however, the ring shadows become increasingly wider and cast further south. These shadows are not easily visible from the Earth because from our vantage point near the Sun, the rings always block the shadows. The above image was taken in August by the robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. The rings themselves appear as a vertical bar on the image right. The Sun, far to the upper right, shines through the rings and casts captivatingly complex shadows on south Saturn, on the image left. Cassini has been exploring Saturn, its rings, and its moons since 2004, and is expected to continue until at least the maximum elongation of Saturn's shadows occurs in 2017.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 4 - In the Shadow of Saturn
Explanation: In the shadow of Saturn, unexpected wonders appear. The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn drifted in giant planet's shadow for about 12 hours in 2006 and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a view unlike any other. First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, the rings themselves appear dark when silhouetted against Saturn, but quite bright when viewed away from Saturn, slightly scattering sunlight, in this exaggerated color image. Saturn's rings light up so much that new rings were discovered, although they are hard to see in the image. Seen in spectacular detail, however, is Saturn's E ring, the ring created by the newly discovered ice-fountains of the moon Enceladus and the outermost ring visible above. Far in the distance, at the left, just above the bright main rings, is the almost ignorable pale blue dot of Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 July 8 - Saturn Storm Panoramas
Explanation: These tantalizing panoramas follow a remarkable giant storm encircling the northern hemisphere of ringed planet Saturn. Still active, the roiling storm clouds were captured in near-infrared images recorded by the Cassini spacecraft on February 26 and stitched into the high resolution, false-color mosaics. Seen late last year as a prominent bright spot by amateur astronomers when Saturn rose in predawn skies, the powerful storm has grown to enormous proportions. Its north-south extent is nearly 15,000 kilometers and it now stretches completely around the gas giant's northern hemisphere some 300,000 kilometers. Taken about one Saturn day (11 hours) apart, the panoramas show the head of the storm at the left and cover about 150 degrees in longitude. Also a source of radio noise from lightning, the intense storm may be related to seasonal changes as Saturn experiences northern hemisphere spring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 June 13 - Views from Cassini at Saturn
Explanation: What has the Cassini orbiter seen since arriving at Saturn? The above music video shows some of the highlights. In the first time-lapse sequence (00:07), a vertical line appears that is really Saturn's thin rings seen nearly edge-on. Soon some of Saturn's moon shoot past. The next sequence (00:11) features Saturn's unusually wavy F-ring that is constrained by the two shepherd moons that are also continually perturbing it. Soon much of Saturn's extensive ring system flashes by, sometimes juxtaposed to the grandeur of the immense planet itself. Cloud patterns on Titan (00:39) and Saturn (00:41) are highlighted. Clips from flyby's of several of Saturn's moon are then shown, including Phoebe, Mimas, Epimetheus, and Iapetus. In other sequences, moons of Saturn appear to pass each other as they orbit Saturn. Background star fields seen by Cassini are sometimes intruded upon by bright passing moons. The robotic Cassini spacecraft has been revolutionizing humanity's knowledge of Saturn and its moons since 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 May 12 - Enceladus Looms
Explanation: A sunlit crescent of Saturn's moon Enceladus looms above the night side of Saturn in this dramatic image from the Cassini spacecraft. Captured on August 13, 2010 looking in a sunward direction during a flyby of the icy moon, the view also traces layers in the upper atmosphere of Saturn scattering sunlight along the planet's bright limb. Closer to the spacecraft than Saturn, Enceladus is a mere 60,000 kilometers from Cassini's camera. The south polar region of the 500 kilometer-diameter moon is illuminated, including plumes of water vapor and icy particles spraying above the long fissures in the moon's surface. The fissures have been dubbed tiger stripes. First discovered in Cassini images from 2005, the plumes are strong evidence that liquid water exists near the surface of surprisingly active Enceladus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 March 15 - Cassini Approaches Saturn
Explanation: What would it look like to approach Saturn in a spaceship? One doesn't have to just imagine -- the Cassini spacecraft did just this in 2004, recording thousands of images along the way, and thousands more since entering orbit. Recently, some of these images have been digitally tweaked, cropped, and compiled into the above inspiring video which is part of a larger developing IMAX movie project named Outside In. In the last sequence, Saturn looms increasingly large on approach as cloudy Titan swoops below. With Saturn whirling around in the background, Cassini is next depicted flying over Mimas, with large Herschel Crater clearly visible. Saturn's majestic rings then take over the show as Cassini crosses Saturn's thin ring plane. Dark shadows of the ring appear on Saturn itself. Finally, the enigmatic ice-geyser moon Enceladus appears in the distance and then is approached just as the video clip ends.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 March 8 - Titan, Rings, and Saturn from Cassini
Explanation: How thin are the rings of Saturn? Brightness measurements from different angles have shown Saturn's rings to be about one kilometer thick, making them many times thinner, in relative proportion, than a razor blade. This thinness sometimes appears in dramatic fashion during an image taken nearly along the ring plane. The robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn has now captured another shot that dramatically highlights the ring's thinness. The above image was taken in mid January in infrared and polarized light. Titan looms just over the thin rings, while dark ring shadows on Saturn show the Sun to be above the ring plane. Close inspection of the image will show the smaller moon Enceladus on the far right. Cassini, humanity's first mission to orbit Saturn, currently has operations planned until 2017.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 19 - Prometheus Rising Through Saturns F Ring
Explanation: What is that dark streak below Prometheus? Although it may look like a shadow or a trail blazed by sweeping up material, computer simulations indicate that the dark streak is better understood as an empty path pulled away by the gravity of Saturn's small moon. The particles don't follow Prometheus so much as glide sideways past where Prometheus used to be. One dark streamer is created during each pass of Prometheus through the F-ring that it shepherds. The streamers were unpredicted and first discovered in 2004 on high resolution images taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Close inspection of the surface of Prometheus itself in the above image shows interesting structure and craters. The Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 and, as it continues to function well, is now expected to continue to send back data and images from the distant ringed world until 2017.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 27 - The Dancing Auroras of Saturn
Explanation: What drives auroras on Saturn? To help find out, scientists have sorted through hundreds of infrared images of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft for other purposes, trying to find enough aurora images to correlate changes and make movies. Once made, some movies clearly show that Saturnian auroras can change not only with the angle of the Sun, but also as the planet rotates. Furthermore, some auroral changes appear related to waves in Saturn's magnetosphere likely caused by Saturn's moons. Pictured above, a false-colored image taken in 2007 shows Saturn in three bands of infrared light. The rings reflect relatively blue sunlight, while the planet itself glows in comparatively low energy red. A band of southern aurora in visible in green. Inspection of many more Saturnian images may well lead to an even better understanding of both Saturn's and Earth's auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 12 - Moons Beyond the Rings of Saturn
Explanation: What's happened to that moon of Saturn? Nothing -- Saturn's moon Rhea is just partly hidden behind Saturn's rings. In April, the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn took this narrow-angle view looking across the Solar System's most famous rings. Rings visible in the foreground include the thin F ring on the outside and the much wider A and B rings just interior to it. Although it seems to be hovering over the rings, Saturn's moon Janus is actually far behind them. Janus is one of Saturn's smaller moons and measures only about 180 kilometers across. Farther out from the camera is the heavily cratered Rhea, a much larger moon measuring 1,500 kilometers across. The top of Rhea is visible only through gaps in the rings. The Cassini mission around Saturn has been extended to 2017 to better study the complex planetary system as its season changes from equinox to solstice.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 May 31 - Moons and Rings Before Saturn
Explanation: While cruising around Saturn, be on the lookout for picturesque juxtapositions of moons and rings. Another striking alignment occurred last March in the view of humanity's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft. Rhea, one of Saturn's larger moons, was caught passing Epimetheus, one of Saturn's smaller moons. Epimetheus, as pictured above, is actually well behind the heavily cratered Rhea. Further back, several of the complex rings of Saturn can be seen crossing the image horizontally. Behind both the moons and rings is giant Saturn itself, showing expansive but featureless clouds in the green light where the above image was taken. The Cassini mission around Saturn has now been extended to 2017 to better study the complex planetary system as its season changes from equinox to solstice.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 April 20 - Saturn's Moons Dione and Titan from Cassini
Explanation: What would it be like to see a sky with many moons? Such is the sky above Saturn. When appearing close to each other, moons will show a similar phase. A view with two of the more famous moons of Saturn in gibbous phase was captured last month by the robot spacecraft Cassini now orbiting Saturn. Titan, on the left, is among the largest moons in the Solar System and is perpetually shrouded in clouds. In 2005, the Huygens probe landed on Titan and gave humanity its first view of its unusual surface. Dione, on the right, has less than a quarter of Titan's diameter and has no significant atmosphere. The above uncalibrated image was taken on April 10 after Cassini swooped by each moon the previous week.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 April 5 - Prometheus Remastered
Explanation: What does Saturn's shepherd moon Prometheus really look like? The raw images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft's January flyby of the small moon showed tantalizing clues on grainy images, but now that the Cassini team has digitally remastered these images, many more details have come out. Pictured above, Prometheus more clearly shows its oblong shape as well as numerous craters over its 100-kilometer length. In the above image, the bright part of Prometheus is lit directly by the Sun, while much of the dark part is still discernible through sunlight first reflected off of Saturn. These new surface details, together with the moon's high reflectivity, can now help humanity better understand the history of Prometheus and Saturn's rings. Today, Cassini has a planned targeted flyby of Saturn's largest moon Titan, while on Wednesday, Cassini is scheduled to swoop to within 600 kilometers of Dione.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 March 10 - Saturn's Moon Helene from Cassini
Explanation: What's happening on the surface of Saturn's moon Helene? The moon was imaged in unprecedented detail last week as the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn swooped to within two Earth diameters of the diminutive moon. Although conventional craters and hills appear, the above raw and unprocessed image also shows terrain that appears unusually smooth and streaked. Planetary astronomers will be inspecting these detailed images of Helene to glean clues about the origin and evolution of the 30-km across floating iceberg. Helene is also unusual because it circles Saturn just ahead of the large moon Dione, making it one of only four known Saturnian moons to occupy a gravitational well known as a stable Lagrange point.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 February 17 - An Unusually Smooth Surface on Saturn's Calypso
Explanation: Why is this moon of Saturn so smooth? This past weekend, humanity's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft passed as close to Saturn's small moon Calypso as it ever has, and imaged the small moon in unprecedented detail. Pictured above is an early return, raw, unprocessed image of the 20-km long irregularly shaped moon. Like its sister moon Telesto and the shepherd moon Pandora, Calypso has shown itself to be unusually smooth, much smoother than most of Saturn's larger moons. A leading hypothesis for Calypso's smoothness is that much of the moon's surface is actually a relatively loose jumble of rubble -- making Calypso a rubble-pile moon. The loose nature of the small ice pieces allows them to fill in many small craters and other surface features. Calypso orbits Saturn always behind Saturn's much larger moon Tethys, whereas Telesto's orbit always precedes Tethys. Calypso's extremely white surface -- not unlike fresh snow -- may result from the continuous accumulation of fresh ice particles falling in from Saturn's E ring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 February 15 - Cassini Spacecraft Crosses Saturn's Ring Plane
Explanation: If this is Saturn, where are the rings? When Saturn's "appendages" disappeared in 1612, Galileo did not understand why. Later that century, it became understood that Saturn's unusual protrusions were rings and that when the Earth crosses the ring plane, the edge-on rings will appear to disappear. This is because Saturn's rings are confined to a plane many times thinner, in proportion, than a razor blade. In modern times, the robot Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn now also crosses Saturn's ring plane. A series of plane crossing images from 2005 February was dug out of the vast online Cassini raw image archive by interested Spanish amateur Fernando Garcia Navarro. Pictured above, digitally cropped and set in representative colors, is the striking result. Saturn's thin ring plane appears in blue, bands and clouds in Saturn's upper atmosphere appear in gold. Since Saturn just passed its equinox, today the ring plane is pointed close to the Sun and the rings could not cast the high dark shadows seen across the top of this image, taken back in 2005. Moons appear as bumps in the rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 February 1 - Shepherd Moon Prometheus from Cassini
Explanation: Another moon of Saturn has been imaged in detail by the Cassini spacecraft. Orbiting Saturn since 2004, the robotic Cassini got its closest look yet at Saturn's small moon Prometheus last week. Visible above in an unprocessed image from 36,000 kilometers away, Prometheus' 100-km long surface was revealed to have an interesting system of bulges, ridges, and craters. These features, together with the moon's oblong shape and high reflectivity, are now being studied to help better understand the history of Prometheus and Saturn's rings. Prometheus is one of the few shepherd satellites known, as its gravity, along with its companion moon Pandora, confines many smaller ice chucks into Saturn's F Ring. Cassini's next major targeted flyby is of the moon Rhea on March 2.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 January 27 - Tethys Behind Titan
Explanation: What's that behind Titan? It's another of Saturn's moons: Tethys. The robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn captured the heavily cratered Tethys slipping behind Saturn's atmosphere-shrouded Titan late last year. The largest crater on Tethys, Odysseus, is easily visible on the distant moon. Titan shows not only its thick and opaque orange lower atmosphere, but also an unusual upper layer of blue-tinted haze. Tethys, at about 2 million kilometers distant, was twice as far from Cassini as was Titan when the above image was taken. In 2004, Cassini released the Hyugens probe which landed on Titan and provided humanity's first views of the surface of the Solar System's only known lake-bearing moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 14 - Saturns Hexagon Comes to Light
Explanation: Believe it or not, this is the North Pole of Saturn. It is unclear how an unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds Saturn's north pole was created, keeps its shape, or how long it will last. Originally discovered during the Voyager flybys of Saturn in the 1980s, nobody has ever seen anything like it elsewhere in the Solar System. Although its infrared glow was visible previously to the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn, over the past year the mysterious hexagonal vortex became fully illuminated by sunlight for the first time during the Cassini's visit. Since then, Cassini has imaged the rotating hexagon in visible light enough times to create a time-lapse movie. The pole center was not well imaged and has been excluded. This movie shows many unexpected cloud motions, such as waves emanating from the corners of the hexagon. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 8 - Ice Moon Tethys from Saturn Orbiting Cassini
Explanation: What processes formed the unusual surface of Saturn's moon Tethys? To help find out, NASA sent the robotic Cassini spacecraft right past the enigmatic ice moon in 2005. Pictured above is one of the highest resolution images of an entire face of Tethys yet created. The pervasive white color of Tethys is thought to be created by fresh ice particles continually falling onto the moon from Saturn's diffuse E-ring -- particles expelled by Saturn's moon Enceladus. Some of the unusual cratering patterns on Tethys remain less well understood, however. Close inspection of the above image of Tethys' south pole will reveal a great rift running diagonally down from the middle: Ithaca Chasma. A leading theory for the creation of this great canyon is anchored in the tremendous moon-wide surface cracking that likely occurred when Tethys' internal oceans froze. If so, Tethys may once have harbored internal oceans, possibly similar to the underground oceans some hypothesize to exist under the surface of Enceladus today. Might ancient life be frozen down there?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 November 24 - Cassini Flyby Shows Enceladus Venting
Explanation: What's happening on the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus? Enormous ice jets are erupting. Giant plumes of ice have been photographed in dramatic fashion by the robotic Cassini spacecraft during this past weekend's flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Pictured above, numerous plumes are seen rising from long tiger-stripe canyons across Enceladus' craggy surface. Several ice jets are even visible in the shadowed region of crescent Enceladus as they reach high enough to scatter sunlight. Other plumes, near the top of the above image, appear visible just over the moon's sunlit edge. That Enceladus vents fountains of ice was first discovered on Cassini images in 2005, and has been under close study ever since. Continued study of the ice plumes may yield further clues as to whether underground oceans, candidates for containing life, exist on this distant ice world.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 November 10 - Saturn After Equinox
Explanation: The other side of Saturn's ring plane is now directly illuminated by the Sun. For the previous 15 years, the southern side of Saturn and its rings were directly illuminated, but since Saturn's equinox in August, the orientation has reversed. Pictured above last month, the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn has captured the giant planet and its majestic rings soon after equinox. Imaged from nearly behind, Saturn and its moon Tethys each show a crescent phase to Cassini that is not visible from Earth. As the rings continue to point nearly toward the Sun, only a thin shadow of Saturn's rings is visible across the center of the planet. Close inspection of Saturn's rings, however, shows superposed bright features identified as spokes that are thought to be groups of very small electrically charged ice particles. Understanding the nature and dynamics of spokes is not fully understood and remains a topic of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 September 30 - Saturn at Equinox
Explanation: How would Saturn look if its ring plane pointed right at the Sun? Before last month, nobody knew. Every 15 years, as seen from Earth, Saturn's rings point toward the Earth and appear to disappear. The disappearing rings are no longer a mystery -- Saturn's rings are known to be so thin and the Earth is so near the Sun that when the rings point toward the Sun, they also point nearly edge-on at the Earth. Fortunately, in this third millennium, humanity is advanced enough to have a spacecraft that can see the rings during equinox from the side. Last month, that Saturn-orbiting spacecraft, Cassini, was able to snap a series of unprecedented pictures of Saturn's rings during equinox. A digital composite of 75 such images is shown above. The rings appear unusually dark, and a very thin ring shadow line can be made out on Saturn's cloud-tops. Objects sticking out of the ring plane are brightly illuminated and cast long shadows. Inspection of these images may help humanity understand the specific sizes of Saturn's ring particles and the general dynamics of orbital motion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 August 9 - Saturn's Iapetus: Painted Moon
Explanation: What has happened to Saturn's moon Iapetus? Vast sections of this strange world are dark as coal, while others are as bright as ice. The composition of the dark material is unknown, but infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of carbon. Iapetus also has an unusual equatorial ridge that makes it appear like a walnut. To help better understand this seemingly painted moon, NASA directed the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop within 2,000 kilometers in 2007. Pictured above, from about 75,000 kilometers out, Cassini's trajectory allowed unprecedented imaging of the hemisphere of Iapetus that is always trailing. A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers and appears superposed on an older crater of similar size. The dark material is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike. Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon's equator and is less than a meter thick. A leading hypothesis is that the dark material is mostly dirt leftover when relatively warm but dirty ice sublimates. An initial coating of dark material may have been effectively painted on by the accretion of meteor-liberated debris from other moons. This and other images from Cassini's Iapetus flyby are being studied for even greater clues.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 June 28 - Fresh Tiger Stripes on Saturn's Enceladus
Explanation: Do underground oceans vent through the tiger stripes on Saturn's moon Enceladus? Long features dubbed tiger stripes are known to be spewing ice from the moon's icy interior into space, creating a cloud of fine ice particles over the moon's South Pole and creating Saturn's mysterious E-ring. Evidence for this has come from the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Pictured above, a high resolution image of Enceladus is shown from a close flyby. The unusual surface features dubbed tiger stripes are visible in false-color blue. Why Enceladus is active remains a mystery, as the neighboring moon Mimas, approximately the same size, appears quite dead. Most recently, an analysis of dust captured by Cassini found evidence for sodium as expected in a deep salty ocean. Conversely however, recent Earth-based observations of ice ejected by Enceladus into Saturn's E-Ring showed no evidence of the expected sodium. Such research is particularly interesting since such an ocean would be a candidate to contain life.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 May 5 - Titan Beyond the Rings
Explanation: When orbiting Saturn, be sure to watch for breathtaking superpositions of moons and rings. One such picturesque vista was visible recently to the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. In 2006 April, Cassini captured Saturn's A and F rings stretching in front of cloud-shrouded Titan. Near the rings and appearing just above Titan was Epimetheus, a moon which orbits just outside the F ring. The dark space in the A ring is called the Encke Gap, although several thin knotted ringlets and even the small moon Pan orbit there. Cassini and curious Earthlings await the coming Saturnian equinox this summer when the ring plane will point directly at the Sun. Mysterious spokes and telling shadows are expected to become visible that might give away more clues about the nature of Saturn's ring particles.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 January 11 - In the Shadow of Saturn
Explanation: In the shadow of Saturn, unexpected wonders appear. The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn recently drifted in giant planet's shadow for about 12 hours and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a view unlike any other. First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, the rings themselves appear dark when silhouetted against Saturn, but quite bright when viewed away from Saturn, slightly scattering sunlight, in this exaggerated color image. Saturn's rings light up so much that new rings were discovered, although they are hard to see in the image. Seen in spectacular detail, however, is Saturn's E ring, the ring created by the newly discovered ice-fountains of the moon Enceladus and the outermost ring visible above. Far in the distance, at the left, just above the bright main rings, is the almost ignorable pale blue dot of Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 5 - Seventeen Hundred Kilometers Above Enceladus
Explanation: Above is one of the closest pictures yet obtained of Saturn's ice-spewing moon Enceladus. The image was taken from about 1,700 kilometers up as the robotic Cassini spacecraft zoomed by the fractured ice ball last week. Features the size of a bus are resolvable in this highly detailed image taken of Enceladus' active tiger stripe region. Very different from most other moons and planets, grooves and hills dot an alien moonscape devoid of craters. Space pioneers might wonder where, on such a highly textured surface, a future probe might land in search of freshly deposited ice, subsurface seas, or even indicators of life. Although appearing dark in the above contrast-enhanced image, the surface of Enceladus is covered with some of the brightest ice in the entire Solar System, reflecting about 99 percent of the light it receives. To help better understand this enigmatic world, Cassini is scheduled to swoop by Enceladus at least five more times.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 27 - Beneath the South Pole of Saturn
Explanation: What clouds lurk beneath Saturn's unusual South Pole? To help find out, the robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn imaged the nether region of the gigantic ringed orb in infrared light. There thick clouds appear dark as they mask much of the infrared light emitted from warmer regions below, while relatively thin clouds appear much lighter. Bands of clouds circle Saturn at several latitudes, while dark ovals indicate many dark swirling storm systems. Surprisingly, a haze of upper level clouds visible towards Saturn's equator disappears near the pole, including over Saturn's strange polar vortex. Cassini entered orbit around Saturn in 2004, and recorded the above image last year.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 20 - Moons, Rings, and Unexpected Colors on Saturn
Explanation: Why would Saturn show such strange colors? The robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn has beamed back images showing that the northern hemisphere our Solar System's most spectacularly ringed planet has changed noticeably since Cassini arrived in 2004, now sporting unusual and unexpected colors. No one is sure why. Although the cause for many of Saturn's colors is unknown, the recent change in colors is thought to be related to the changing seasons. Pictured above, the unusual colors are visible just north of the dark ring shadows. The razor-thin plane of ring particles is visible nearly edge-on across the bottom of the image. The cloudy moon Titan looms large just above the rings, while close observation will reveal three other moons. Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004, sending back data and images that have not only led to a deeper understanding of the Jovian world's atmosphere, moons, and rings, but also raised new mysteries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 14 - An Enceladus Tiger Stripe from Cassini
Explanation: What creates the unusual tiger stripes on Saturn's moon Enceladus? No one is sure. To help find out, scientists programmed the robotic Cassini spacecraft to dive right past the plume-spewing moon last week. Previously, the tiger stripe regions were found to be expelling plumes of water-ice, fueling speculation that liquid seas might occur beneath Enceladus' frozen exterior. Such seas are so interesting because they are candidates to contain extraterrestrial life. Important processes in tiger stripe formation may include heating from below and moonquakes. Visible above is terrain on Enceladus so young that only a few craters are visible. This newly released raw image shows at least one type of false artifact, however, as seeming chains of craters are not so evident in other concurrently released images of the same region. The large tiger stripe across the image middle is impressive not only for its length and breadth, but because a large internal shadow makes it also appear quite deep. Cassini will next fly by Enceladus on October 31.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 13 - Cassini Passes Through Ice Plumes of Enceladus
Explanation: What telling impurities taint the ice plumes of Enceladus? To help answer this question, the robotic Cassini spacecraft dove last week to within 30 kilometers of Saturn's ice-plume emitting moon. At this closest-ever approach, Cassini attempted to sniff and obtain chemical data on particles ejected from Enceladus' regular surface, while at other times Cassini flew right through -- and sampled -- ice geysers directly. Searches in the data for impurity clues in the water-ice dominated plumes and surface ejecta are progressing. Although the main purpose of this flyby was particle analysis, several interesting images are emerging. Visible in the above image, for example, is an unusual gray sheen running vertically up the image center that might be water vapor escaping from surface canyons. Other notable features visible above include vast plains of craterless icy grooves, the day-night terminator across the image left, and an area near the top comparatively rich in craters. Cassini is scheduled to buzz by Enceladus in an imaging run near the end of this month.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 September 10 - The Anthe Arc around Saturn
Explanation: What created this unusual partial ring around Saturn? Discovered last year, the arc was captured in clear detail only two months ago by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft. Since the arc occupies the same orbit as the small moon Anthe, a leading hypothesis holds that the arc was created by, and is replenished by, meteor impacts on Anthe. Similar arcs have been previously discovered, including an arc associated with the small Saturnian moon Methone, one arc related to Saturn's G ring, and several arcs orbiting Neptune. Pictured above, Anthe, only two kilometers across, is seen as the bright point near the top of the Anthe arc. The Anthe arc was imaged by the robotic space probe as it swooped to within 1.5 million kilometers of the small moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 July 20 - Crescent Rhea Occults Crescent Saturn
Explanation: Soft hues, partially lit orbs, a thin trace of the ring, and slight shadows highlight this understated view of the majestic surroundings of the giant planet Saturn. Looking nearly back toward the Sun, the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn captured crescent phases of Saturn and its moon Rhea in color a few years ago. As striking as the above image is, it is but a single frame from a recently released 60-frame silent movie where Rhea can be seen gliding in front of its parent world. Since Cassini was nearly in the plane of Saturn's rings, the normally impressive rings are visible here only as a thin line across the image center. Although Cassini has now concluded its primary mission, its past successes and opportunistic location have prompted NASA to start a two-year Equinox Mission, further exploring not only Saturn's enigmatic moons Titan and Enceladus, but Saturn herself as her grand rings tilt right at the Sun in August 2009.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 June 24 - Ithaca Chasma: The Great Rift on Saturn's Tethys
Explanation: What created the Great Rift on Saturn's moon Tethys? No one is sure. More formally named Ithaca Chasma, the long canyon running across the right of the above image extends about 2,000 kilometers long and spreads as much as 100 kilometers wide. The above image was captured by the Saturn-orbiting robotic Cassini spacecraft as it zoomed by the icy moon last month. Hypotheses for the formation of Ithaca Chasma include cracking of Tethy's outer crust as the moon cooled long ago, and that somehow the rift is related to the huge Great Basin impact crater named Odysseus, visible elsewhere on the unusual moon. Cassini has now been orbiting Saturn for about four years and is scheduled to continue to probe and photograph Saturn for at least two more years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 May 13 - Ancient Craters of Southern Rhea
Explanation: Saturn's ragged moon Rhea has one of the oldest surfaces known. Estimated as changing little in the past billion years, Rhea shows craters so old they no longer appear round – their edges have become compromised by more recent cratering. Like Earth's Moon, Rhea's rotation is locked on Saturn, and the above image shows part of Rhea's surface that always faces Saturn. Rhea's leading surface is more highly cratered than its trailing surface. Rhea is composed mostly of water-ice but is thought to include about 25 percent rock and metal. The above image was taken by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini swooped past Rhea last month and captured the above image from about 350,000 kilometers away. Rhea spans 1,500 kilometers making it Saturn's second largest moon after Titan. Several surface features on Rhea remain unexplained including large light patches like those seen near the image top.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 31 - Close Up of Enceladus Tiger Stripes
Explanation: Could life exist beneath Enceladus? A recent flyby of Saturn's icy moon has bolstered this fascinating idea. Two years ago, images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn led astronomers to the undeniable conclusion that Saturn's moon Enceladus was spewing fountains of gas and ice crystals through cracks in its surface dubbed tiger stripes. Last month, Cassini dove through some of these plumes and determined that they contained water vapor laced with small amounts of methane as well as simple and complex organic molecules. Surprisingly, the plumes of Enceladus appear similar in make-up to many comets. What's more, the temperature and density of the plumes indicate they might have originated from a warmer source -- possibly a liquid source -- beneath the surface. A liquid water sea containing organic molecules is a good place to look for life. Pictured above is a vertically exaggerated close-up of some long, venting tiger stripes. The computer composite was generated from images and shadows taken during recent Cassini flybys. Nine more flybys of Enceladus by Cassini are planned.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 24 - Saturn and Titan from Cassini
Explanation: Spectacular vistas of Saturn and its moon continue to be recorded by the Cassini spacecraft. Launched from Earth in 1997, robotic Cassini entered orbit around Saturn in 2004 and has revolutionized much of humanity's knowledge of Saturn, its expansive and complex rings, and it many old and battered moons. Soon after reaching Saturn, Cassini released the Huygen's probe which landed on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and send back unprecedented pictures from below Titan's opaque cloud decks. Recent radar images of Titan from Cassini indicate flat regions that are likely lakes of liquid methane, indicating a complex weather system where it likely rains chemicals similar to gasoline. Pictured above, magnificent Saturn and enigmatic Titan were imaged together in true color by Cassini earlier this year.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 17 - Thirty Thousand Kilometers Above Enceladus
Explanation: What does the surface of Saturn's ice-spewing moon Enceladus look like? To help find out, the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn was sent soaring past the cryovolcanic moon and even right through one of Enceladus' ice plumes. Cassini closed to about 52 kilometers during its closest encounter to date. The above unprocessed image was taken looking down from the north, from about 30,000 kilometers away. Visible are at least two types of terrain. The first type of terrain has more craters than occur near Enceladus' South Pole. The other type of terrain has few craters but many ridges and grooves that may have been created by surface-shifting tectonic activity. Exogeologists are currently poring over this and other Cassini images from last Wednesday's flyby to better understand the moon's patch-work surface, its unusual ice-geysers, and its potential to support life. Cassini is scheduled to fly by Enceladus at least nine more times, including an even closer pass of just 25 kilometers this coming October.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 February 11 - Saturn's Moon Epimetheus from the Cassini Spacecraft
Explanation: How did Epimetheus form? No one is yet sure. To help answer that question, this small moon has recently been imaged again in great detail by the robot spacecraft Cassini now orbiting Saturn. Epimetheus sometimes orbits Saturn in front of Janus, another small satellite, but sometimes behind. The above image, taken last December, shows a surface covered with craters indicating great age. Epimetheus spans about 115 kilometers across. Epimetheus does not have enough surface gravity to restructure itself into a sphere. The flattened face of Epimetheus shown above might have been created by a single large impact.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 December 17 - Saturn's Ancient Rings
Explanation: How old are Saturn's rings? No one is quite sure. One possibility is that the rings formed relatively recently in our Solar System's history, perhaps only about 100 million years ago when a moon-sized object broke up near Saturn. Evidence for a young ring age includes a basic stability analysis for rings, and the fact that the rings are so bright and relatively unaffected by numerous small dark meteor impacts. New evidence, however, raises the possibility that some of Saturn's rings may be billions of years old and so almost as old as Saturn itself. Inspection of images by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft indicates that some of Saturn's ring particles temporarily bunch and collide, effectively recycling ring particles by bringing fresh bright ices to the surface. Seen here, Saturn's rings were imaged in their true colors by the robotic Cassini in late October. Icy bright Tethys, a moon of Saturn likely brightened by a sandblasting rain of ice from sister moon Enceladus, is visible in front of the darker rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 October 24 - Ring Scan
Explanation: Scroll right and cruise above the thin, icy rings of Saturn. This high resolution scan is a mosaic of images presented in natural color and recorded in May, over about 2.5 hours as the Cassini spacecraft passed above the unlit side of the rings. The rings themselves are seen to be composed of many individual ringlets. To help track your progress, the rings are labeled below, along with the distance from the center of the gas giant in kilometers. Major ring gaps are labeled above. The alphabetical designation of Saturn's rings is historical and related to their order of discovery; rings A and B are the bright rings separated by the Cassini division. In order of increasing distance from Saturn, the seven main rings run D,C,B,A,F,G,E. (Faint, outer rings G and E are not imaged here.)

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 October 10 - The Strange Trailing Side of Saturn's Iapetus
Explanation: What has happened to Saturn's moon Iapetus? Vast sections of this strange world are dark as coal, while others are as bright as ice. The composition of the dark material is unknown, but infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of carbon. Iapetus also has an unusual equatorial ridge that makes it appear like a walnut. To help better understand this mysterious moon, NASA directed the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop within 2,000 kilometers just last month. Pictured above, from about 75,000 kilometers out, Cassini's trajectory allowed unprecedented imaging of the hemisphere of Iapetus that is always trailing. A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers and appears superposed on an older crater of similar size. The dark material is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike. Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon's equator. Whether Iapetus' colors are the result of unusual episodes of internal volcanism or external splattering remains unknown. This and other images from Cassini's Iapetus flyby are being studied for even greater clues.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 September 19 - 4000 Kilometers Above Saturns Iapetus
Explanation: What does the surface of Saturn's mysterious moon Iapetus look like? To help find out, the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn was sent soaring last week just 2,000 kilometers from the unique equatorial ridge of the unusual walnut-shaped two-toned moon. The above image from Cassini is from about 4,000 kilometers out and allows objects under 100-meters across to be resolved. Cassini found an ancient and battered landscape of craters, sloping hills, and mountains as high as 10 kilometers and so rival the 8.8-kilometer height of Mt. Everest on Earth. Just above the center of this image is a small bright patch where an impacting rock might have uncovered deep clean water ice. Space scientists will be studying flyby images like this for clues to the origin of Iapetus' unusual shape and coloring with particular emphasis because no more close flybys of the enigmatic world are planned.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 September 15 - Iapetus: 3D Equatorial Ridge
Explanation: This bizarre, equatorial ridge extending across and beyond the dark, leading hemisphere of Iapetus gives the two-toned Saturnian moon a distinct walnut shape. With red/blue glasses you can check out a remarkable stereo composition of this extraordinary feature -- based on close-up images from this week's Cassini spacecraft flyby. In fact, the ridge's combination of equatorial symmetry and scale, about 20 kilometers wide and reaching up to 20 kilometers above the surface, is not known to be duplicated anywhere else in our solar system. The unique feature was discovered in Cassini images from 2004. It appears to be heavily cratered and therefore ancient, but the origin of the equatorial ridge on Iapetus remains a mystery.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 September 14 - Iapetus in Black and White
Explanation: Iapetus, Saturn's third largest moon, is a candidate for the strangest moon of Saturn. Tidally locked in its orbit around the ringed gas giant, Iapetus is sometimes called the yin-yang moon because its leading hemisphere is very dark, reflecting about 5 percent of the Sun's light, while its trailing hemisphere is almost as bright as snow. This recent Cassini spacecraft flyby image is one of the closest views ever. It spans about 35 kilometers across a cratered transition zone between bright and dark terrain. Iapetus itself has a density close to that of water ice, but the detailed reflective properties of the dark material suggest an organic composition. Honoring the moon's discoverer, the dark terrain is called Cassini Regio.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 June 27 - Neon Saturn
Explanation: If seen in the right light, Saturn glows like a neon sign. Although Saturn has comparatively little of the element neon, a composite image false-colored in three bands of infrared light highlights features of the giant ringed planet like a glowing sign. At the most blue band of the infrared light featured, false-colored blue in the above image, Saturn itself appears dark but Saturn's thin rings brightly reflect light from our Sun. Conversely, Saturn's B ring is so thick that little reflected light makes it through, creating a dark band between Saturn's A and C rings. At the most red band of the infrared, false-colored red above, Saturn emits a surprisingly detailed thermal glow, indicating planet-wide bands, huge hurricane-like storms, and a strange hexagon-shaped cloud system around the North Pole. In the middle infrared band, false-colored green, the sunlit side of Saturn's atmosphere reflects brightly. The above image was obtained in late February by the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting about 1.6 million kilometers out from Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 30 - Liquid Sea on Saturn's Titan
Explanation: What is this vast dark region on Titan? Quite possible a sea of liquid hydrocarbons. The region was imaged earlier this month when the robotic Cassini spacecraft swooped past Saturn's cloudy moon and illuminated part of it with radar. The dark region in the above image reflected little radar, an effect expected were the dark surface relatively flat, as expected for a liquid. Other indications that the vast dark area is liquid include the coastline-like topology of the brighter regions, which appear to include islands, inlets, and tributary channels. The uninterrupted smoothness of much of the dark sea may indicate that the sea runs deep, with speculation holding a depth estimate of tens of meters. A hydrocarbon sea on Titan holds particular interest for exobiologists as it might be a place where life could develop. In 2005 the Huygens probe landed on Titan and returned the first surface images. Cassini will continue to explore Titan, as 13 more flybys are planned.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 March 27 - Enceladus Creates Saturns E Ring
Explanation: The active moon Enceladus appears to be making Saturn's E ring. An amazing picture showing the moon at work was taken late last year by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft and is shown above. Enceladus is the dark spot inside the bright flare, right near the center of Saturn's E ring. Streams of ice and water vapor can be seen pouring off Enceladus into the E ring. The above bright image of the normally faint E-ring was made possible by aligning Cassini so that Saturn blocked the Sun. From that perspective, small ring particles reflect incoming sunlight more efficiently. Cassini has now been orbiting Saturn for almost three years, and is scheduled to swoop by the unexpectedly cryovolcanic Enceladus at least several more times.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 February 7 - Liquid Lakes on Saturns Titan
Explanation: Why would some regions on Titan reflect very little radar? The leading explanation is that these regions are lakes, possibly composed of liquid methane. The above image is a false-color synthetic radar map of a northern region of Titan taken during a flyby of the cloudy moon by the robotic Cassini spacecraft last July. On this map, which spans about 150 kilometers across, dark regions reflect relatively little of the broadcast radar signal. Images like this show Titan to be only the second body in the Solar System to possess liquids on the surface. Future observations from Cassini during Titan flybys will further test the methane lake hypothesis, as comparative wind effects on the regions are studied.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 January 31 - Movie: Cassini Crosses Saturn's Ring Plane
Explanation: What would the rings of Saturn look like if you passed right through the ring plane? To find out, NASA aimed cameras from the Cassini spacecraft right at Saturn's rings as the robotic explorer passed from the sunlit side of the rings to the shadowed side. Resulting images from a vantage point outside the rings and most moons, but inside the orbit of Titan, have been gathered together in the above time-lapse movie. The dramatic movie demonstrates that ring particle density and reflectivity makes some parts of the shadowed side nearly the photographic negative of the sunlit side, but nearly empty regions remain continually dark. Visible also are Saturn-orbiting moons Enceladus, Mimas, Janus, Epimetheus, Prometheus, and Pandora. The extreme thinness of Saturn's rings can be appreciated from frames taken near the crossing time.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 October 12 - Saturn's Infrared Glow
Explanation: Known for its bright ring system and many moons, gas giant Saturn looks strange and unfamiliar in this false-color view from the Cassini spacecraft. In fact, in this Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) mosaic the famous rings are almost invisible, seen edge-on cutting across picture center. The most striking contrast in the image is along the terminator or boundary between night and day. To the right (day side) blue-green hues are visible sunlight reflected from Saturn's cloud tops. But on the left (night side) in the absence of sunlight, the lantern-like glow of infrared radiation from the planet's warm interior silhouettes features at Saturn's deeper cloud levels. The thermal infrared glow is also apparent in the broad bands of ring shadows draped across the northern hemisphere of Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 27- Earth from Saturn
Explanation: What's that pale blue dot in this image taken from Saturn? Earth. The robotic Cassini spacecraft looked back toward its old home world earlier this month as it orbited Saturn. Using Saturn itself to block the bright Sun, Cassini imaged a faint dot on the right of the above photograph. That dot is expanded on the image inset, where a slight elongation in the direction of Earth's Moon is visible. Vast water oceans make Earth's reflection of sunlight somewhat blue. Earth is home to over six billion humans and over one octillion Prochlorococcus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 12 - Saturn at Night
Explanation: This is what Saturn looks like at night. In contrast to the human-made lights that cause the nighttime side of Earth to glow faintly, Saturn's faint nighttime glow is primarily caused by sunlight reflecting off of its own majestic rings. The above image of Saturn at night was captured in July by the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. The above image was taken when the Sun was far in front of the spacecraft. From this vantage point, the northern hemisphere of nighttime Saturn, visible on the left, appears eerily dark. Sunlit rings are visible ahead, but are abruptly cut off by Saturn's shadow. In Saturn's southern hemisphere, visible on the right, the dim reflected glow from the sunlit rings is most apparent. Imprinted on this diffuse glow, though, are thin black stripes not discernable to any Earth telescope -- the silhouetted C ring of Saturn. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and its mission is scheduled to continue until 2008.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 5 - Bright Cliffs Across Saturns Moon Dione
Explanation: What causes the bright streaks on Dione? Recent images of this unusual moon by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn are helping to crack the mystery. Close inspection of Dione's trailing hemisphere, pictured above, indicates that the white wisps are composed of deep ice cliffs dropping hundreds of meters. The cliffs may indicate that Dione has undergone some sort of tectonic surface displacements in its past. The bright ice-cliffs run across some of Dione's many craters, indicating that the process that created them occurred later than the impacts that created those craters. Dione is made of mostly water ice but its relatively high density indicates that it contains much rock inside. Giovanni Cassini discovered Dione in 1684. The above image was taken at the end of July from a distance of about 263,000 kilometers. Other high resolution images of Dione were taken by the passing Voyager spacecraft in 1980.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 July 31 - Possible Methane Lakes on Titan
Explanation: Have methane lakes been discovered on Saturn's Titan? That exciting possibility was uncovered from analyses of radar images returned last week by the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. The above image is a radar reflection from terrain near Titan's North Pole and spans a region about 200 kilometers across. Evidence that the dark areas might be pools of liquid hydrocarbons includes an extreme smoothness implied by the lack of a return radar signal, and apparently connected tributaries. If true, Titan would be only the second body in our Solar System, after Earth, found to possess liquids on the surface. Future observations from Cassini during Titan flybys might test the methane lake hypothesis, as comparative wind affects on the regions are studied.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 July 11 - Crescent Rhea Occults Crescent Saturn
Explanation: Soft hues, partially lit orbs, a thin trace of the ring, and slight shadows highlight this understated view of the majestic surroundings of the giant planet Saturn. Looking nearly back toward the Sun, the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn captured crescent phases of Saturn and its moon Rhea in color a few months ago. As striking as the above image is, it is but a single frame from a recently released 60-frame silent movie where Rhea can be seen gliding in front of its parent world. Since Cassini was nearly in the plane of Saturn's rings, the normally impressive rings are visible here only as a thin line across the image center. Cassini has now passed the official half-way mark of its mission around Saturn, but is well situated to complete another two years investigating this complex and surprising system.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 June 27 - The Moving Moons of Saturn
Explanation: The moons of Saturn never stop. A space traveler orbiting the ringed giant planet would witness a continuing silent dance where Saturn's multiple moons pass near each other in numerous combinations. Like a miniature Solar System, the innermost moons orbit Saturn the fastest. The above movie was centered on Saturn's moon Rhea, so that the moons Mimas and Enceladus appear to glide by. At 1,500 kilometers across, Rhea is over three times larger than the comparably sized Mimas and Enceladus. The Sun illuminates the scene from the lower right, giving all of the moons the same crescent phase. The above time lapse movie was created by the Saturn-orbiting robotic Cassini spacecraft over a period of about 40 minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 May 30 - Ancient Craters on Saturn's Rhea
Explanation: Saturn's ragged moon Rhea has one of the oldest surfaces known. Estimated as changing little in the past billion years, Rhea shows craters so old they no longer appear round – their edges have become compromised by more recent cratering. Like Earth's Moon, Rhea's rotation is locked on Saturn, and the above image shows part of Rhea's surface that always faces Saturn. Rhea's leading surface is more highly cratered than its trailing surface. Rhea is composed mostly of water-ice but is thought to have a small rocky core. The above image was taken by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini swooped past Rhea two months ago and captured the above image from about 100,000 kilometers away. Rhea spans 1,500 kilometers making it Saturn's second largest moon after Titan. Several surface features on Rhea remain unexplained including large light patches.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 April 5 - Slightly Beneath Saturn's Ring Plane
Explanation: When orbiting Saturn, be sure to watch for breathtaking superpositions of moons, rings, and shadows. One such picturesque vista was visible recently to the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. In late February, Cassini captured Rhea, the second largest moon of Saturn, while looking up from slightly beneath Saturn's expansive ring plane. Signature dark gaps are visible in the nearly edge-on rings. A shadow of Saturn's F ring cuts across the cratered ice-moon. Cassini is scheduled to continue sending back images from the orbit of Saturn until at least 2008.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 February 23 - Saturn Storm by Ringshine
Explanation: Imaged on the night side of Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft, these swirling storm clouds are illuminated by ringshine - sunlight reflected from the gas giant's magnificent ring system. The storm (top) was actually spotted last month by amateur astronomers as it rotated across Saturn's day side and spans about 3,500 kilometers. When the storm was on the same side of Saturn as the Cassini spacecraft, bursts of radio noise were detected, suggesting lightning discharges connected with the storm were responsible for the radio emission. While no lightning is seen directly in this Cassini image, scientists note that this storm appears along the planet's southern hemisphere storm alley in approximately the same location as Saturn's Dragon Storm, reported early last year. Though the new storm is larger and seems to be more powerful, it could well be the Dragon Storm reemerging.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 February 12 - Phoebe: Comet Moon of Saturn
Explanation: Was Saturn's moon Phoebe once a comet? Images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft taken two years ago when entering the neighborhood of Saturn indicate that Phoebe may have originated in the outer Solar System. Phoebe's irregular surface, retrograde orbit, unusually dark surface, assortment of large and small craters, and low average density appear consistent with the hypothesis that Phoebe was once part of the Kuiper belt of icy comets beyond Neptune before being captured by Saturn. Visible in the above image of Phoebe are craters, streaks, and layered deposits of light and dark material. The image was taken from around 30,000 kilometers out from this 200-kilometer diameter moon. Two weeks after taking the above image, Cassini fired its engines to decelerate into orbit around Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 February 8 - The Great Basin on Tethys
Explanation: Some moons wouldn't survive the collision. Tethys, one of Saturn's larger moons at about 1000 kilometers in diameter, survived the collision, but sports today the expansive impact crater Odysseus. Sometimes called the Great Basin, Odysseus occurs on the leading hemisphere of Tethys and shows its great age by the relative amount of smaller craters that occur inside its towering walls. The density of Tethys is similar to water-ice. The above digitally enhanced image was captured late last year by the robot Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn as it swooped past the giant ice ball.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 January 3 - Dark Terrain on Saturn s Iapetus
Explanation: Why are vast sections of Iapetus as dark as coal? No one knows for sure. Iapetus, the third largest moon of Saturn, was inspected again as the Saturn-orbiting robot Cassini spacecraft swooped past the enigmatic world again late last year. The dark material covers most of the surface visible in the above image, while the small portion near the top that appears almost white is of a color and reflectance more typical of Saturn's other moons. The unknown material covers about half of the 1,500 kilometer wide moon. The material is so dark that it reflects less than five percent of incident sunlight, yet overlays craters indicating that it was spread after the craters were formed. Iapetus has other unexplained features. The bright part of Iapetus is covered with unexplained long thin streaks. The orbit of Iapetus is also unusual, being tilted to the plane of Saturn's orbit by an unusually high fifteen degrees. A strange ridge about 13 kilometers high crosses much of Iapetus near the equator and is visible near the bottom. Oddly, this ridge is almost exactly parallel with Iapetus' equator. The exact shape of Iapetus remains undetermined, but images indicate that it is quite strange -- something like a walnut. Research into the formation and history of mysterious Iapetus is active and ongoing.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 December 31 - A Year at Saturn
Explanation: Arriving at Saturn in July of 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has now spent a year and a half exploring the magnificent rings and moons of the distant gas giant. The year 2005 began with Cassini's Huygens probe landing on Saturn's large moon Titan. Cassini's continuing series of close flybys also revealed details and discoveries across the surface of the smog shrouded moon. In fact, with a ringside seat throughout 2005, Cassini's cameras have made spectacular pictures of Titan along with Saturn's other moons and rings almost common place. But often, Saturn itself provided the most dramatic backdrop. In this view, Saturn's moon Dione lies in front of edge-on rings and the gas giant's cloud tops draped with broad ring shadows. Dione is 1,118 kilometers across and lies about 300,000 kilometers from the ring's edge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 December 13 - 620 Kilometers Above Rhea
Explanation: What does the surface of Saturn's moon Rhea look like? To help find out, the robot Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn was directed to fly right past the second largest moon of the gas giant planet late last month. Pictured above is an image taken only 620 kilometers above Rhea's icy surface, spanning about 90 kilometers. The rim of an old crater crosses the middle of the image, with many smaller and younger craters scattered throughout. A linear depression -- possibly a tectonic fault -- is visible toward the right, crossing the likely loose material that composes Rhea's surface regolith. The origins of many features on Rhea are currently unexplained and being researched.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 December 5 - Ice Fountains Discovered on Saturns Enceladus
Explanation: Fountains of ice shoot out from Saturn's moon Enceladus. Clear discovery images of the fountains were made using observations from the robot Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. During a recent pass, Cassini was programmed to look back toward the Sun where Enceladus would appear as a thin crescent. From this vantage point, particles emitted from the surface would better show themselves by reflecting sunlight. The tactic was successful -- the above frame shows several plumes emanating from regions previously known to contain gashes in the surface dubbed tiger stripes. Cassini detected an increase in particle emissions from these regions during a July flyby. Some of these ice particles likely contribute to the make up of Saturn's mysterious E ring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 October 26 - 4500 Kilometers Above Dione
Explanation: What does the surface of Saturn's moon Dione look like? To find out, the robot Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn flew right past the fourth largest moon of the giant planet earlier this month. Pictured above is an image taken about 4,500 kilometers above Dione's icy surface, spanning about 23 kilometers. Fractures, grooves, and craters in Dione's ice and rock are visible. In many cases, surface features are caused by unknown processes and can only be described. Many of the craters have bright walls but dark floors, indicating that fresher ice is brighter. Nearly parallel grooves run from the upper right to the lower left. Fractures sometimes across the bottom of craters, indicating a relatively recent formation. The lip of a 60-kilometer wide crater runs from the middle left to the upper center of the image, while the crater's center is visible on the lower right. Images like this will continue to be studied to better understand Dione as well as Saturn's complex system of rings and moons.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 October 21 - Ringside
Explanation: Orbiting in the plane of Saturn's rings, Dione and the other icy saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gorgeous gas giant planet. Of course, while passing through the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The rings themselves can be seen slicing across the bottom of this Cassini snapshot. Remarkably thin, the bright rings still cast arcing shadows across the planet's cloud tops. Pale Dione, in the foreground, is about 1,100 kilometers across and orbits over 300,000 kilometers from the visible outer edge of the A ring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 October 10 - The Swirling Storms of Saturn
Explanation: Storms larger than hurricanes continually dot the upper atmosphere of the planet Saturn. A view of many storms occurring simultaneously was captured in July by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. An image of unusually high detail was made possible at that time when Cassini isolated a very specific color of polarized infrared light. The numerous white and dark spots visible above are the swirling storm systems. On Saturn, storms like these typically last for months and have even been seen merging. Bands of clouds that circle the entire planet are also clearly visible. Saturn's complex and majestic ring system is seen both in the foreground and the background. The above image has been digitally shortened along the vertical.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 11 - Jupiters Clouds from Cassini
Explanation: Gas giant Jupiter is the solar system's largest world with about 320 times the mass of planet Earth. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible in very modest sized telescopes. The dark belts and light-colored zones of Jupiter's cloud bands are organized by planet girdling winds which reach speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour. On toward the Jovian poles though, the cloud structures become more mottled and convoluted until, as in this Cassini spacecraft mosaic of Jupiter, the planet's polar region begins to look something like a brain! This striking equator-to-pole change in cloud patterns is not presently understood but may be due in part to the effect of Jupiter's rapid rotation or to convection vortices generated at high latitudes by the massive planet's internal heat loss. The Cassini spacecraft captured this dramatically detailed view of Jupiter in 2000 December during its turn of the millennium flyby enroute to Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 6 - Fresh Tiger Stripes on Saturns Enceladus
Explanation: The tiger stripes on Saturn's moon Enceladus might be active. Even today, they may be spewing ice from the moon's icy interior into space, creating a cloud of fine ice particles over the moon's South Pole and creating Saturn's mysterious E-ring. Recent evidence for this has come from the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini detected a marked increase in particle collisions during its July flyby only 270 kilometers over a South Polar region of Enceladus. Pictured above, a high resolution image of Enceladus is shown from the close flyby. The unusual surface features dubbed tiger stripes are visible on the left in false-color blue. Why Enceladus is active remains a mystery, as the neighboring moon Mimas, approximately the same size, appears quite dead.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 July 26 - Hyperion: Sponge Moon of Saturn
Explanation: Why is Saturn's moon Hyperion textured like a sponge? Recent high-resolution images from the robot Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn show Hyperion to be an even stranger place than thought before. Previously, it was known that the length of a day on Hyperion is unpredictable. The moon's highly elliptical orbit around Saturn, its highly non-spherical shape, and its locked 4:3 orbital resonance with Titan torque Hyperion around so much it is hard to predict when the Sun will rise next. The newly imaged craters on the unusually coarse surface are surely the result of impacts, but for some reason have dark centers. The low density of Hyperion indicates it might even be a spelunker's paradise, riddled with tremendous caverns.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 June 22 - Saturn's Rings from the Other Side
Explanation: What do Saturn's rings look like from the other side? From Earth, we usually see Saturn's rings from the same side of the ring plane that the Sun illuminates them. Geometrically, in the above picture taken in April 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. Images like these are also interesting for what they do not show: spokes. The unexpected shadowy regions once recorded by the Voyager missions when they passed Saturn in the early 1980s are not, so far, being seen by Cassini. Extra credit: Can you spot the small moon (Prometheus) among the rings?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 30 - A Great White Spot on Rhea
Explanation: What caused this great white spot on the surface of Saturn's moon Rhea? The spot was first noticed last year by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini's flyby of Rhea in April imaged in the spot in great detail. Astronomers hypothesize that the light-colored spot is the result of a relatively recent impact on the surface of the icy moon. The impact that likely created the crater also splashed light-colored material from the interior onto the darker surface. Rhea spans 1,500 kilometers across and is the second largest moon of Saturn after Titan. Rhea sports several other light colored surface features that are, as yet, not well understood.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 27 - Titan s Odd Spot
Explanation: Titan's odd spot could be a cloud, but if so, it's a persistent one. Peering into the thick, hazy atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, cameras on board the Cassini spacecraft found a bright spot at the same location during Titan encounters in 2005 and 2004. Seen near Titan's upper edge in this false-color image from the VIMS instrument, the spot is almost 500 kilometers wide, and is brightest at infrared wavelengths. In addition to suggesting the uniquely colored spot is a persistent cloud possibly controlled by surface features, researchers also entertain the idea that the spot is caused by unusual surface material or extremely tall mountains. They also note the bright infrared spot could be hot. Further clues to the odd spot's nature will come during a planned encounter in July 2006 when Cassini's cameras will look at the spot during Titan's night. If it glows at night, it's hot.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 4 - Cassini Spacecraft Crosses Saturns Ring Plane
Explanation: If this is Saturn, where are the rings? When Saturn's "appendages" disappeared in 1612, Galileo did not understand why. Later that century, it became understood that Saturn's unusual protrusions were rings and that when the Earth crosses the ring plane, the edge-on rings will appear to disappear. This is because Saturn's rings are confined to a plane many times thinner, in proportion, than a razor blade. In modern times, the robot Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn now also crosses Saturn's ring plane. A series of plane crossing images from late February was dug out of the vast online Cassini raw image archive by interested Spanish amateur Fernando Garcia Navarro. Pictured above, digitally cropped and set in representative colors, is the striking result. Saturn's thin ring plane appears in blue, bands and clouds in Saturn's upper atmosphere appear in gold, and dark shadows of the rings curve across the top of the gas giant planet. Moons appear as bumps in the rings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 18 - Saturnian Moon and Rings
Explanation: When can a robot produce art? When it glides past the rings of Saturn. As the robot spacecraft Cassini orbiting Saturn crossed outside the famous photogenic ring plane of the expansive planet, the rings were imaged from the outside, nearly edge on, and in the shadow of Saturn. From the upper left, ring features include the A ring, the Cassini gap, the B ring, and the darker C ring that includes the Titan gap and a gap yet unnamed. Last month when the above image was taken, the gliding spacecraft was about one million kilometers from foreground Enceladus, a small Saturnian moon only about 500 kilometers across. Cassini is scheduled to continue its 70 orbit tour of Saturn over the next three years, sending back images of the gas giant, its rings, and its moons that will be studied for decades to come.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 29 - Crescents of Titan and Dione
Explanation: What would it be like to see a sky with many moons? Such is the sky above Saturn. When appearing close to each other, moons will show a similar phase. A view with two of the more famous moons of Saturn in crescent phase was captured last month by the robot spacecraft Cassini now orbiting Saturn. Titan, on the lower left, is among the largest moons in the Solar System and is perpetually shrouded in clouds. Recently, the Huygens probe landed on Titan and gave humanity its first view of its unusual surface. Dione, on the upper right, has less than a quarter of Titan's diameter and has no significant atmosphere. Dione, although appearing smaller, was only half the distance to Titan when the above image was taken.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 17 - Enceladus Close Up
Explanation: The surface of Enceladus is as white as fresh snow. Still, an impressive variety of terrain is revealed in this contrast enhanced image. At a resolution of about 30 meters per pixel, the close-up view spans over 20 kilometers - recorded during the touring Cassini spacecraft's March flyby of the icy Saturnian moon. Enceladus is known to be the most reflective moon in the solar system, and the recent Cassini encounters have also detected the presence of an atmosphere, making Enceladus the second moon of Saturn with such a distinction. In fact, Enceladus' fresh looking surface and significant atmosphere both indicate that the tiny, 500 kilometer diameter moon is active. Researchers suspect that ice volcanos or geysers coat the surface with fresh material and replenish the moon's atmosphere, ultimately providing the icy particles that compose Saturn's tenuous E ring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 25 - Saturn's Dragon Storm
Explanation: Dubbed the "Dragon Storm", convoluted, swirling cloud features are tinted orange in this false-color, near-infrared image of Saturn's southern hemisphere. In one of a series of discoveries announced by Cassini researchers, the Dragon Storm was found to be responsible for mysterious bursts of radio static monitored by Cassini instruments during the last year as the spacecraft orbited the ringed planet. The storm is now thought to be a giant Saturnian thunderstorm, like storms on Earth, with radio noise produced in high-voltage lightning discharges. The Cassini observations are also consistent with the Dragon Storm being a long-lived storm, deep within the gas giant's atmosphere, that periodically flares-up to produce large, visible storm regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 24 - Ski Enceladus
Explanation: Small, icy, inner moon of Saturn, Enceladus is only about 500 kilometers in diameter. But the distant world does reflect over 90 percent of the sunlight it receives, giving its surface about the same reflectivity as fresh snow. Seen here in a sharp view from the Cassini spacecraft's recent flyby, Enceladus shows a variety of surface features and very few impact craters - indicating that it has been an active world even though this tiny moon should have completely cooled off long ago. In fact, the resurfaced appearance of Enceladus could be the result of liquid water geysers or water volcanos. Since Enceladus orbits within the outer E ring of Saturn, the moon's surface may be kept snow-bright as it is continuously bombarded with icy ring particles. Eruptions on Enceladus itself would in turn supply material to the E ring. Interplanetary ski bums take note: tiny Enceladus has only about 1/100th the surface gravity of planet Earth and a surface temperature of -200 degrees C (-330 degrees F).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 22 - Persistent Saturnian Auroras
Explanation: Are Saturn's auroras like Earth's? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn's South Pole simultaneously as Cassini closed in on the gas giant in January 2004. Hubble snapped images in ultraviolet light, while Cassini recorded radio emissions and monitored the solar wind. Like on Earth, Saturn's auroras make total or partial rings around magnetic poles. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn's auroras persist for days, as opposed to only minutes on Earth. Although surely created by charged particles entering the atmosphere, Saturn's auroras also appear to be more closely modulated by the solar wind than either Earth's or Jupiter's auroras. The above sequence shows three Hubble images of Saturn each taken two days apart.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 15 - Saturns Moon Rhea from Cassini
Explanation: Each moon of Saturn seems to come with its own mystery. Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon behind Titan, shows unusual wisps, visible above as light colored streaks. Higher resolution images of similar wisps on Dione indicate that they might be made of long braided fractures. Rhea is composed mostly of water ice, but likely has a small rocky core. Rhea's rotation and orbit are locked together, just like Earth's Moon, so that one side always faces Saturn. A consequence of this is that one side always leads the other. Rhea's leading surface is much more heavily cratered than the trailing surface, pictured above. The above image in natural color was taken last month by the Cassini robot spacecraft in orbit around Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 January 14 - Descent to Titan
Explanation: Today's descent to the surface of Titan by the European Space Agency's Huygens probe was the most distant landing ever by a spacecraft from Earth. At 10:13 UT (5:13am EST, 11:13 CET), Huygens entered the atmosphere of Saturn's large mystery moon at an altitude of 180 kilometers. Radio astronomers reported detecting signals from the probe indicating that that Huygens began to deployed a series of parachutes to control its 2 hour descent through Titan's dense atmosphere. Huygens' anticipated landing point is marked by a yellow dot in this near-infrared image from the Cassini spacecraft ... but it is not known if a solid or liquid surface awaited it. The outermost of the nested octagons is about 1,120 kilometers across. The outlines are labeled by altitude and indicate areas of coverage by Huygens' imaging instruments during the descent.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 December 25 - Big Beautiful Saturn
Explanation: As a present to APOD readers, digital imager Mattias Malmer offers a very high resolution view of big beautiful Saturn. A labor of love, his full mosaic, composite image is contained in a large 5 megabyte jpeg file (preview here, download here) and spans the gorgeous gas giant from ring tip to ring tip. It was pieced together from 102 frames (N00020905 to N00021033) recorded by the Cassini spacecraft ISS on October 6, 2004. The red, green, and blue frames are all uncalibrated, unvalidated images available to the public through the Cassini web site. Malmer's full panorama has a pixel size of 8400 by 3300, so only a substantially cropped version appears above. Enjoy the view and have a safe and Happy Holiday Season!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 December 2 - Mimas, Rings, and Shadows
Explanation: Caught in sunlight, icy moon Mimas shines above a broad shadow across gas giant Saturn. In this remarkable image from the Cassini spacecraft, tiny Mimas is at the upper right. The broad shadow across the giant planet is cast by Saturn's dense B ring with intriguing threadlike shadows from Saturn's inner C ring arrayed below. While the B and C rings are otherwise not visible here, the very narrow outer F ring lies toward the bottom of the image as well as a section of the partly transparent A ring and its 300 kilometer wide Encke gap crisscrossing the ring shadows. Sunlight streaming through the much larger Cassini gap that separates the A and B rings is responsible for the bright band seen above Mimas. The Cassini gap itself is just off the bottom of this cropped view. Orbiting well beyond Saturn's F ring, Mimas is a mere 400 kilometers in diameter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 December 1 - Saturn's Moon Dione from Cassini
Explanation: What causes the bright streaks on Dione? Recent and likely future images of this unusual moon by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn might help us find out. The above image was taken at the end of October from a distance of about one million kilometers. The bright streaks run across some of Dione's many craters, indicating that the process that created them occurred later than the impacts that created those craters. Dione is made of mostly water ice but its relatively high density indicates that it contains much rock inside. Giovanni Cassini discovered Dione in 1684. The Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to photograph Dione at higher resolution in mid-December. Currently, the highest resolution images of Dione remain those taken by the passing Voyager spacecraft in 1980.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 29 - Saturn's Moon Tethys from Cassini
Explanation: Tethys is one of the larger and closer moons of Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn passed near the frozen moon at the end of October, capturing the most detailed images since the Voyager spacecrafts in the early 1980s. Tethys is composed almost completely of water ice and shows a large impact crater that nearly circles the moon. Because this crater did not disrupt the moon, Tethys is hypothesized to be at least partly liquid in its past. Two smaller moons, Telesto and Calypso, orbit Saturn just ahead of and behind Tethys. Giovanni Cassini discovered Tethys in 1684. The Cassini spacecraft is scheduled for a close fly-by of Tethys in September 2005.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 2 - Storm Alley on Saturn
Explanation: What causes storms on Saturn? To help find out, scientists commanded the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn to inspect a circulating band of clouds nicknamed "Storm Alley." This westwardly moving cloud ring has been unusually active since the beginning of 2004, spawning white swirling storms and dark storms ringed by sprawling white clouds all cascading around the gas giant. The rogue band, as well as other parts of south Saturn, were imaged in stunning detail in a very specific band of infrared light that passes through Saturn's upper haze relatively unblurred. The result was then digitally sharpened, showing more cloud detail but creating fake image artifacts such as a surrounding ring. Speculation on the nature of past Saturn storms included convective motions of small amounts of ammonia and water, seasons, and shadowing effects of the great ring system. Although the above image provides data and clues, the power behind Saturn's storms still remains a mystery.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 October 28 - Tantalizing Titan
Explanation: Normally hidden by a thick, hazy atmosphere, tantalizing features on Titan's surface appear in this false-color view. The image was recorded as the Cassini spacecraft approached its first close flyby of Saturn's smog-shrouded moon on October 26. Here, red and green colors represent specific infrared wavelengths absorbed by Titan's atmospheric methane while bright and dark surface areas are revealed in a more penetrating infrared band. Ultraviolet data showing the extensive upper atmosphere and haze layers are seen as blue. Sprawling across the 5,000 kilometer wide moon, the bright continent-sized feature known as Xanadu is near picture center, bordered at the left by contrasting dark terrain. Saturn orbiter Cassini and Titan lander Huygens plan further explorations, but for now the origin and nature of Titan's surface features remain unknown.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 October 26 - Titan Through the Haze
Explanation: What are these surface features on Titan? This planet-sized moon of Saturn had much of its south polar surface imaged during an initial flyby by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft back in early July. The above image mosaic was digitally stitched together from pictures taken at a very specific color of polarized infrared light, a color not absorbed and little scattered by Titan's methane haze. Visible are light and dark regions that are not yet understood. Surface features as small as 10 kilometers are resolved from about 340,000 kilometers away. The white region near Titan's South Pole, left of center, is unusually thick clouds also thought to be composed of methane. Today Cassini will swoop to within 1,500 kilometers above Titan and may return data and images that help humanity better understand this strange world.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 October 18 - Southern Saturn from Cassini
Explanation: What happens to Saturn's pervasive clouds at its South Pole? Visible in the above image of Saturn are bright bands, dark belts and a dark spot right over the South Pole. The above image in infrared light spans over 30,000 kilometers and was taken early last month by the robot Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. Saturn's atmosphere is about 75 percent hydrogen, 25 percent helium, and small amounts of heavier compounds including water vapor, methane, and ammonia. The relatively low gravity at Saturn's cloud tops result in a thicker haze layer, which in turn makes atmospheric features blurrier than Jupiter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 20 - Seeing Through Saturn's C Ring
Explanation: Are Saturn's rings transparent? The Cassini spacecraft that recently entered orbit around Saturn has confirmed that some of Saturn's rings are more transparent than others. Pictured above, Saturn's main A, B, and C rings can be seen, top to bottom, superposed against the gas giant planet. Although the B-ring across the top is opaque, Saturn's cloud tops can be clearly seen through the lower C-ring. The translucent nature of the C-ring likely indicates that it is less densely populated with ring particles than the B-ring. The above image was taken on July 30 while Cassini was over 7 million kilometers from Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 August 10 - The Double Haze above Titan
Explanation: Most moons have no haze layer at all - why does Titan have two? Images from the Cassini spacecraft that slipped into orbit around Saturn last month confirm that the Solar System's most mysterious moon is surrounded not only by a thick atmosphere but also by two distinct spheres of haze. These layers are visible as purple in the above false-color ultraviolet image. Titan's opaque atmosphere is similar to Earth's atmosphere in that it is composed mostly of nitrogen. As energetic sunlight strikes high level atmospheric nitrogen and methane, trace amounts of organic compounds such as ethane and carbon dioxide appear to form. These and other complex organic molecules likely populate the detached haze layer. In December 2004, Cassini will launch the Huygens probe to land on Titan.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 21 - A Shadow on the Rings of Saturn
Explanation: This picture of Saturn could not have been taken from Earth. No Earth based picture could possibly view the night side of Saturn and the corresponding shadow cast across Saturn's rings. Since Earth is much closer to the Sun than Saturn, only the day side of the planet is visible from the Earth. Rather, this picture was taken by the robot Cassini spacecraft that began orbiting Saturn earlier this month. The dark western limb of Saturn looms large on the image right, while complex concentrations of small ring particles reflect sunlight on the image left. Saturn's enigmatic F ring is visible around the outside, showing mysterious knots. The small moon Epimetheus, only about 100 kilometers across, can also been seen on the far left. Cassini is scheduled to drop a probe toward the largest moon Titan in December.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 12 - Cassini Images Saturns A Ring
Explanation: What are Saturn's rings made of? In an effort to find out, the robot spacecraft Cassini that entered orbit around Saturn two weeks ago took several detailed images of the area surrounding Saturn's large A ring in ultraviolet light. In the above image, the bluer an area appears, the richer it is in water ice. Conversely, the redder an area appears, the richer it is in some sort of dirt. This and other images show that inner rings have more dirt than outer rings. Specifically, as shown above, the thin rings in the Cassini Division on the left have relatively high dirt content compared to the outer parts of Saturn's A ring, shown on the right. This dirt/ice trend could be a big clue to the ring's origin. The thin red band in the otherwise blue A ring is the Encke Gap. The exact composition of dirt remains unknown.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 10 - Phoebe Craters in Stereo
Explanation: Get out your red/blue glasses and gaze across the spectacular, cratered terrain of Saturn's icy moon Phoebe in stereo. The dramatic 3-D perspective spans roughly 50 kilometers and is based on two raw, uncalibrated images (N00004840.jpg and N00004838.jpg) from the Cassini spacecraft's narrow angle camera taken during the flyby on June 11 at a range of just over 13,500 kilometers. Phoebe itself is only about 200 kilometers in diameter. Stereo experimenter Patrick Vantuyne noted the substantial overlap in the raw image data and was able to assemble the dramatic view of the overlapping region as a red/blue stereo anaglyph. Looking for a cool project? Stereo glasses can be easily constructed using red and blue plastic for filters. To view this image, the red filter is used for the left eye.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 6 - Titan from Cassini in Infrared
Explanation: Could the building blocks of life exist under the smog of Titan? What is creating all of the methane? To help answer these questions, the largest and most mysterious moon of Saturn got a quick first look from the Cassini robot spacecraft soon after entering orbit around the giant planet last week. Although thick atmospheric smog prevented detailed surface images in visible light, infrared light was able to provide interesting clues to the nature of Titan's surface. The above images show Titan in three different colors of infrared light, with the most energetic on the left. The leftmost image is the most detailed but shows surface features that are not yet well understood. The smoothness of the middle image is consistent with a large frozen ocean of water ice containing simple hydrocarbons. The darker regions on the rightmost image might indicate areas relatively rich in hydrocarbons. The white spot visible near the South Pole is hypothesized to be a persistent cloud of large particles containing methane. A better understanding of the mysterious surface of Titan will hopefully be forthcoming as scientists study these images and those from a planned 45 flybys over the next four years. In January, Cassini is scheduled to drop the Huygens probe onto Titan's surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 5 - Cassini Images Density Waves in Saturns Rings
Explanation: What causes the patterns in Saturn's rings? The Cassini spacecraft just entering orbit around Saturn has started sending back spectacular images of Saturn's immense ring system in unprecedented detail. The physical cause for many of newly resolved ring structures is not always understood. The cause for the beautifully geometric type of ring structure shown above in Saturn's A ring, however, is hypothesized to be a spiral density wave. A small moon systematically perturbing the orbits of ring particles orbiting at slightly different distances causes such a density wave bunching. Also visible on the image right is a bending wave, a vertical wave in ring particles also caused by the gravity of a nearby moon. This close-up spans about 220 kilometers. Cassini is scheduled to take and send back images of the distant ringed Saturn and its unusual moons for the next four years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 3 - Cassini to Venus
Explanation: Saturn Orbiter Cassini with Titan Probe Huygens attached rocketed into early morning skies on October 15, 1997. The mighty Titan 4B Centaur rocket is seen here across the water, arcing away from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Station. Cassini, a sophisticated robot spacecraft was actually headed toward inner planet Venus, the first way point in its 7 year, 2.2 billion mile interplanetary journey to Saturn. In fact, Cassini swung by Venus during April 1998 and June 1999, Earth in August 1999, and Jupiter in December 2000. During each of these "gravity assist" encounters the six ton spacecraft picked up speed, reaching Saturn only three days ago. Cassini is now orbiting the ringed gas giant, with the Huygens Probe scheduled to separate from the spacecraft in December. The probe's descent to the surface of Saturn's large moon Titan will be the most distant landing ever attempted.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 2 - The Encke Gap: A Moon Goes Here
Explanation: Yesterday, Cassini became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around gas giant Saturn, rocketing through a 25,000 kilometer wide gap in the distant planet's magnificent system of icy rings at about 15 kilometers per second. Turning to snap pictures, Cassini's narrow angle camera recorded this stunning close-up of a much smaller gap in the rings, the Encke Gap. A mere 300 kilometers wide, the Encke Gap is flanked by amazing structures within the rings -- scalloped edges and patterns of density waves are clear in the sharp image. While the rings of Saturn are likely debris from the breakup of a fair-sized icy moon, the Encke Gap itself is created by the repeated passage of a tiny moon. Only 20 kilometers wide that tiny moon, Pan, was also detected by Cassini's camera as the spacecraft approached the Saturnian system.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 30 - Phoebe: Comet Moon of Saturn
Explanation: Was Saturn's moon Phoebe once a comet? Images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft taken two weeks ago when entering the neighborhood of Saturn indicate that Phoebe may have originated in the outer Solar System. Phoebe's irregular surface, retrograde orbit, unusually dark surface, assortment of large and small craters, and low average density appear consistent with the hypothesis that Phoebe was once part of the Kuiper belt of icy comets beyond Neptune before being captured by Saturn. Visible in the above image of Phoebe are craters, streaks, and layered deposits of light and dark material. The image was taken from around 30,000 kilometers out from this 200-kilometer diameter moon. Late today, Cassini will begin to fire its engines to decelerate into orbit around Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 14 - Unusual Layers on Saturn's Moon Phoebe
Explanation: What caused the unusual light and dark layers on Saturn's moon Phoebe? The layers were discovered just Friday during the Cassini spacecraft flyby of the small moon. Such layering is particularly evident on the crater just above the image center, where alternating light and dark material makes this crater appear particularly structured. Cassini scientists speculate that such layering might result from an impact where a dark surface layer becomes intertwined with a lighter subsurface ice layer. The above image spans about 80 kilometers and was taken when Cassini was only about 13,000 kilometers from Phoebe. At the end of June, the Cassini spacecraft will be instructed to fire its thrusters to decelerate into orbit around Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 May 31 - 24 Million Kilometers to Saturn
Explanation: Next stop: Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is approaching Saturn and will fire its engines to break into orbit around the ringed giant on July 1. The robot spacecraft was launched in 1997 and rounded Jupiter in 2001. As Cassini orbits Saturn over the next four years, it will swoop past many of Saturn's moons for unprecedented close-ups and even drop a probe onto Titan. Pictured above, Cassini imaged Saturn two weeks ago as it closed to only 24 million kilometers out. Visible are complex cloud patterns, thousands of rings, a shadow angle not visible from Earth, and a moon (if you can find it).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 April 30 - Eyeful of Saturn
Explanation: Now a bright speck of light wandering through Earth's night sky, magnificent planet Saturn lies nearly 1.5 billion kilometers from the Sun. But after an interplanetary voyage of seven years the planet's stunning rings nearly fill the field of the Cassini spacecraft's narrow angle camera in this image recorded on March 27. Tip to tip, the ring system spans about 270,000 kilometers. Named for discoverers, the large, easily visible gap in the rings is known as the Cassini division, while the narrower outer gap is the Encke division. Illuminated from below and to the right, the rings cast a shadow on Saturn's upper hemisphere, interrupted where sunlight streams through the Cassini division and creates a light blue streak. At the left, Saturn also casts a stark shadow across the planet girdling rings. On July 1, the Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to fire its main engine and enter Saturn orbit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 March 1 - Cassini Closes in on Saturn
Explanation: Are they gone? They were not originally predicted to even be there. The mystery revolves around strange shadow-like spokes that appeared on Saturn's large B-ring, the large middle ring in the complex system of particles that orbits Saturn. The spokes were discovered 23 years ago by the passing Voyager spacecraft and attributed to very fine dust of unknown origin. The missing spokes were noted in the above image, taken last month, from the robot Cassini spacecraft now approaching Saturn. Launched in 1997, the distance remaining between Cassini and Saturn is now less than half that between the Earth and the Sun. Cassini is expected to enter orbit around the ringed Jovian giant planet in July and drop a probe onto Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 December 10 - Cassini Approaches Saturn
Explanation: Cassini, a robot spacecraft launched in 1997 by NASA, is close enough now to resolve many rings and moons of its destination planet: Saturn. The spacecraft has now closed to within a single Earth-Sun separation from the ringed giant. Early last month, Cassini snapped the contrast-enhanced color composite pictured above. Many features of Saturn's rings and cloud-tops now show considerable detail. When arriving at Saturn in July 2004, the Cassini orbiter will begin to circle and study the Saturnian system. Several months later, a probe named Huygens will separate and attempt to land on the surface of Titan.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 14 - Jupiter Portrait
Explanation: Every day is a cloudy day on Jupiter, the Solar System's reigning gas giant. And swirling cloud tops are all you see in this stunningly detailed true color image, a portion of a large digital mosaic portrait of Jupiter recorded from the Cassini spacecraft during its Jovian flyby in December 2000. The smallest features visible are about 60 kilometers across. Jupiter's composition is dominated by hydrogen and the clouds contain hydrogen compounds like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and even water. A truly giant planet, Jupiter's diameter is over 11 times the diameter of Earth and the smallest storms visible in the Cassini Jupiter portrait are similar in size to large terrestrial hurricanes. Now traveling beyond Jupiter, the Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to reach the Saturnian system in July of 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 September 6 - Jupiter Unpeeled
Explanation: Slice Jupiter from pole to pole, peel back its outer layers of clouds, stretch them onto a flat surface ... and for all your trouble you'd end up with something that looks a lot like this. Scrolling right will reveal the full picture, a color mosaic of Jupiter from the Cassini spacecraft. The mosaic is actually a single frame from a fourteen frame movie constructed from image data recorded by Cassini during its leisurely flyby of the solar system's largest planet in late 2000. The engaging movie approximates Jupiter's cloud motions over 24 jovian rotations. To make it, a series of observations covering Jupiter's complete circumference 60 degrees north and south of the equator were combined in an animated cylindrical projection map of the planet. As in the familiar rectangular-shaped wall maps of the Earth's surface, the relative sizes and shapes of features are correct near the equator but become progressively more distorted approaching the polar regions. In the Cassini movie, which also features guest appearances by moons Io and Europa, the smallest cloud structures visible at the equator are about 600 kilometers across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 August 17 - Natural Saturn On The Cassini Cruise
Explanation: What could you see approaching Saturn aboard an interplanetary cruise ship? Your view would likely resemble this subtly shaded image of the gorgeous ringed gas giant. Processed by the Hubble Heritage project, the picture intentionally avoids overemphasizing color contrasts and presents a natural looking Saturn with cloud bands, storms, nearly edge-on rings, and the small round shadow of the moon Enceladus near the center of the planet's disk. Of course, seats were not available on the only ship currently en route, the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini flew by Jupiter at the turn of the millennium and is scheduled to arrive at Saturn in the year 2004. After an extended cruise to a world 1,400 million kilometers from the Sun, Cassini will tour the Saturnian system, conducting a remote, robotic exploration with software and instruments designed by denizens of planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 June 19 - The Moon Maiden
Explanation: Along the northwestern reaches of the lunar near side, the Sinus Iridum or Bay of Rainbows appropriately lies at the edge of the Moon's smooth, dark Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium). In this sketch of the lunar surface around the Bay of Rainbows, the sun shines from the left, illuminating the arcing wall of the lava-floored bay. The bay's Cape Heraclides, seen here at the top of the sunlit arc, has been historically depicted as a moon maiden whose hair streams behind her as she gazes sunward across the bay. In the original Moon race - the race to map the Moon - this moon maiden first appeared in telescope-based drawings of the lunar surface by astronomer Giovanni Cassini in 1679. Still gazing across the lunar bay, the moon maiden inspired this drawing by modern day astronomer, Lucy Whitehouse. Done when she was 14, her sketch of the intriguing feature was made from the countryside in northern England, aided by a telescope equipped with a digital imaging eyepiece and a small television screen.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 March 19 - Jupiter's Great Dark Spot
Explanation: Seventeenth century astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini was an astute observer of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. So it seems only fitting that his namesake, the Cassini spacecraft, has enabled detailed observations of another planet-sized blemish -- Jupiter's Great Dark Spot. Unlike the Red Spot, the Great Dark Spot lies near Jupiter's north pole and seems to appear and disappear over periods of months rather than persisting for hundreds of years. Seen at ultraviolet wavelengths, the dark feature resides in the Jovian stratosphere confined by pole-encircling winds, analogous to planet Earth's antarctic ozone hole. This image of the Dark Spot is a single frame from a movie created with data recorded during the spacecraft's year 2000 flyby of Jupiter. Projected to show Jupiter's north polar region, no data are available for the blank central area, while the Great Dark Spot lies above and just left of center. The white circle marks 60 degrees latitude and the blue contour outlines a persistent Jovian auroral zone which may be related to the formation of the Great Dark Spot.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 March 9 - Farewell Jupiter
Explanation: Next stop: Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft, launched from Earth in 1997, has now swung past Jupiter and should arrive at Saturn in the year 2004. Pictured to the left is a parting shot from Cassini in 2001 January that would not have been possible from Earth: Jupiter showing a crescent phase. From the Earth and all points sunward of Jupiter, the gas giant will always appear more fully lit than a crescent. Recent analysis of Jupiter images taken from Cassini bolsters indications that clouds well up from below in the dark colored belts, not the light colored zones, as believed previously. After arriving at Saturn, Cassini will decelerate to orbit the ringed world and send a probe to its enigmatic moon Titan.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 December 7 - Jupiter, Io, and Shadow
Explanation: Pictured above is the innermost of Jupiter's Galilean satellites, Io, superposed in front of the gas giant planet. To the left of Io is a dark spot that is Io's own shadow. A solar eclipse would be seen from within the shadow spot on Jupiter. Viewed from planet Earth, similar shadows of Jupiter's large moons can often be seen crossing the giant planet's disk. But during the next several months, the Galilean moons can also be seen crossing in front of each other as, for a while, their orbits lie nearly edge-on when viewed by earthbound observers. This true-color contrast-enhanced image was taken two years ago by the robot spacecraft Cassini, as it passed Jupiter on its way to Saturn in 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 November 4 - Cassini Approaches Saturn
Explanation: Cassini, a robot spacecraft launched in 1997 by NASA, is close enough now to resolve many rings and moons of its destination planet: Saturn. The spacecraft has closed to about two Earth-Sun separations from the ringed giant. Last month, Cassini snapped several images during an engineering test. These images have been combined into the contrast-enhanced color composite pictured above. Saturn's rings and cloud-tops are visible on the far right, while Titan, its largest moon, is visible as the speck on the lower left. When arriving at Saturn in July 2004, the Cassini orbiter will begin to circle and study the Saturnian system. Several months later, a probe named Huygens will separate and attempt to land on the surface of Titan.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 July 6 - Io: Moon Over Jupiter
Explanation: How big is the Jovian moon Io? The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced "EYE-oh") is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth's single large natural satellite. Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet's relative size. Although in the picture Io appears to be located just in front of the swirling Jovian clouds, Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts it nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon. The Cassini spacecraft itself was about 10 million kilometers from Jupiter when recording the image data.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 May 19 - Saturn's Moon Tethys
Explanation: Tethys is one of the larger and closer moons of Saturn. It was visited by both Voyager spacecraft - Voyager 1 in November 1980 and by Voyager 2 in August 1981. Tethys is now known to be composed almost completely of water ice. Tethys shows a large impact crater that nearly circles the planet. That the impact that caused this crater did not disrupt the moon is taken as evidence that Tethys was not completely frozen in its past. Two smaller moons, Telesto and Calypso, orbit Saturn just ahead of and behind Tethys. Giovanni Cassini discovered Tethys in 1684. In 1997, NASA launched a spacecraft named Cassini to Saturn that will arrive in 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 May 11 - Natural Saturn On The Cassini Cruise
Explanation: What could you see approaching Saturn aboard an interplanetary cruise ship? Your view would likely resemble this subtly shaded image of the gorgeous ringed gas giant. Processed by the Hubble Heritage project, the picture intentionally avoids overemphasizing color contrasts and presents a natural looking Saturn with cloud bands, storms, nearly edge-on rings, and the small round shadow of the moon Enceladus near the center of the planet's disk. Of course, seats were not available on the only ship currently enroute, the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini flew by Jupiter at the turn of the millennium and is scheduled to arrive at Saturn in the year 2004. After an extended cruise to a world 1,400 million kilometers from the Sun, Cassini will tour the Saturnian system, conducting a remote, robotic exploration with software and instruments designed by denizens of planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 13 - A Portrait of Saturn from Titan
Explanation: This artistic portrait of Saturn depicts how it might look from Titan, Saturn's largest moon. In the foreground sits ESA's Huygens probe, which will be released by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and parachute to Titan's surface. Cassini will reach Saturn in 2004 and release the Huygens probe later that year. Titan is one of only two moons in the Solar System to have an atmosphere. It has been suggested Titan might have gasoline-like lakes and an atmospheric chemistry like that found on early Earth. The Cassini spacecraft was launched in October 1997 and has now traveled beyond Jupiter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 8 - Farewell Jupiter
Explanation: Next stop: Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft, launched from Earth four years ago, has now swung past Jupiter and should arrive at Saturn in the year 2004. Pictured to the left is a parting shot from Cassini in January that would not have been possible from Earth: Jupiter showing a crescent phase. From the Earth and all points sunward of Jupiter, the gas giant will always appear more fully lit than a crescent. After arriving at Saturn, Cassini will decelerate to orbit the ringed world and send a probe to its enigmatic moon Titan.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 April 20 - Io: Moon Over Jupiter
Explanation: How big is the Jovian moon Io? The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced "EYE-oh") is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth's single large natural satellite. Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet's relative size. Although in the picture Io appears to be located just in front of the swirling Jovian clouds, Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts it nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon. The Cassini spacecraft itself was about 10 million kilometers from Jupiter when recording the image data.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 February 15 - Jupiter Unpeeled
Explanation: Slice Jupiter from pole to pole, peel back its outer layers of clouds, stretch them onto a flat surface ... and for all your trouble you'd end up with something that looks a lot like this. Scrolling right will reveal the full picture, a color mosaic of Jupiter from the Cassini spacecraft. The mosaic is actually a single frame from a fourteen frame movie constructed from image data recorded by Cassini during its leisurely flyby of the solar system's largest planet late last year. The engaging movie approximates Jupiter's cloud motions over 24 jovian rotations. To make it, a series of observations covering Jupiter's complete circumference 60 degrees north and south of the equator were combined in an animated cylindrical projection map of the planet. As in the familiar rectangular-shaped wall maps of the Earth's surface, the relative sizes and shapes of features are correct near the equator but become progressively more distorted approaching the polar regions. In the Cassini movie, which also features guest appearances by moons Io and Europa, the smallest cloud structures visible at the equator are about 600 kilometers across. (Note: Downloading a large gif or quicktime version of the movie may take 15 minutes or longer.)

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 February 1 - Jupiter's Brain
Explanation: Gas giant Jupiter is the solar system's largest world with about 320 times the mass of planet Earth. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible in very modest sized telescopes. The dark belts and light-colored zones of Jupiter's cloud bands are organized by planet girdling winds which reach speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour. On toward the Jovian poles though, the cloud structures become more mottled and convoluted until, as in this Cassini spacecraft mosaic of Jupiter, the planet's polar region begins to look something like a brain! This striking equator-to-pole change in cloud patterns is not presently understood but may be due in part to the effect of Jupiter's rapid rotation or to convection vortices generated at high latitudes by the massive planet's internal heat loss. The Cassini spacecraft recorded this dramatically detailed view of Jupiter during its turn of the millennium flyby enroute to Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 2 - Jupiter, Europa, and Callisto
Explanation: As the robot Cassini spacecraft rounds Jupiter on its way toward Saturn, it has taken a sequence of images of the gas giant with its four largest moons. Previously released images have highlighted Ganymede and Io. Pictured above are the two remaining Galilean satellites: Europa and Callisto. Europa is the bright moon superposed near Jupiter's Great Red Spot, while Callisto is the dark moon near the frame edge. Callisto is so dark that it would be hard to see here if its brightness was not digitally enhanced. Recent evidence indicates that both moons hold salt-water seas under surface ice that might be home to extra-terrestrial life. By noting the times that moons disappeared and reappeared behind Jupiter in 1676, Ole Roemer was able to make the first accurate estimation of the speed of light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 26 - Jupiter, Io, and Shadow
Explanation: Just as planets orbit our Sun, Jupiter's Moons orbit Jupiter. Pictured above is the closest of Jupiter's Galilean Satellites, Io, superposed in front of the giant planet it circles. To the left of Io is a dark spot that is its own shadow. The tremendous complexities that can be seen in Jupiter's banded, swirling atmosphere are being studied and may provide insight as to how Earth's atmosphere behaves. The above true-color contrast-enhanced image was taken two weeks ago by the robot spacecraft Cassini, currently passing Jupiter and on its way to Saturn in 2004. Engineers continue to study the Cassini spacecraft itself to understand why it required more force than normal to turn one of its maneuvering wheels.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 12 - Jupiter Eyes Ganymede
Explanation: Who keeps an eye on the largest moon in the Solar System? This moon, visible on the lower right, is Ganymede, and the planet it orbits, Jupiter, seems to be keeping a watchful eye, as its Great Red Spot appears serendipitously nearby. This recently released enhanced-contrast image from the robot spacecraft Cassini captures new details of the incredible intricacies of Jupiter's complex cloud patterns. Features as small as 250 kilometers can be seen. Counter-clockwise rotating high-pressure white ovals that are similar to the Great Red Spot appear in the red band below the spot. Between these spots are darker low-pressure systems that rotate clockwise. The hydrogen and helium that compose most of Jupiter's clouds is nearly invisible - the trace chemicals that give Jupiter these colors remain unknown. The Cassini spacecraft is using Jupiter to pull it toward Saturn, where it is scheduled to arrive in 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 23 - Cassini At Jupiter: Red Spot Movie
Explanation: Everything is big on Jupiter, the solar system's reigning gas giant. For example, Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a hurricane-like storm system at least twice the diameter of planet Earth. Approaching Jupiter in early October the Cassini spacecraft recorded the images used in this excellent movie of the swirling storm system and planet-circling cloud bands. Seven mosaicked frames make up the movie sequence, each separated by one or two rotation periods (Jupiter rotates about once every 10 hours). The sequence is viewed as a simple cylindrical map projection spanning 50 degrees north to 50 degrees south of the Jovian equator. Can you see the small bright "clouds" which seem to suddenly appear west (left) of the Red Spot? Data from the Galileo spacecraft, orbiting Jupiter since 1996, suggest that these features are large lightning storms. Saturn-bound, the Cassini spacecraft will take a few months to fly by Jupiter, coordinating Jovian explorations with Galileo and picking up speed for the final leg of its interplanetary journey.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 October 11 - Cassini Spacecraft Approaches Jupiter
Explanation: A new spacecraft has entered the outer Solar System: Cassini. Launched in 1997 and bound for Saturn in 2004, Cassini sent back the above image last week while approaching the giant planet Jupiter. Cassini joins the Galileo spacecraft currently in orbit around Jupiter in studying the gas giant and its moons. In fact, observations involving both spacecraft simultaneously are planned in the coming months. This color picture was taken when Cassini was 81.3 million kilometers from Jupiter. The alternating dark and bright bands characteristic of Jupiter's cloud tops can be easily seen. Jupiter's moon Europa is also seen at the far right of the image casting a round shadow on the planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 29 - Natural Saturn On The Cassini Cruise
Explanation: What could you see approaching Saturn aboard an interplanetary cruise ship? Your view would likely resemble this subtly shaded image of the gorgeous ringed gas giant. Processed by the Hubble Heritage project, the picture intentionally avoids overemphasizing color contrasts and presents a natural looking Saturn with cloud bands, storms, nearly edge-on rings, and the small round shadow of the moon Enceladus near the center of the planet's disk. Of course, seats were not available on the only ship currently enroute - the Cassini spacecraft, launched in 1997 and scheduled to arrive at Saturn in the year 2004. After an extended cruise to a world 1,400 million kilometers from the Sun, Cassini will tour the Saturnian system, conducting a remote, robotic exploration with software and instruments designed by denizens of planet Earth. But where is Cassini now? Still about 980 million kilometers from Saturn, last Sunday the spacecraft flew by asteroid 2685 Masursky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 10, 1999 - Cassini Images The Moon
Explanation: On August 18, the Cassini spacecraft flew by the Earth and Moon, then continued on its way to the outer solar system. Near its closest approach to the Moon, a distance of about 377,000 kilometers, controllers tested Cassini's imaging systems on this most familiar celestial body. This composite picture shows three resulting lunar images from the green, blue, and ultraviolet regions of the spectrum (left to right). Prominant in the upper right of each image is the dark, round Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises) at the eastern edge of the Moon's near side. With its cameras clearly functioning well, Cassini's next way-point will be Jupiter in December 2000. It is expected to arrive at its final destination, the Saturnian system, in 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 26, 1999 - Cassini Flyby
Explanation: Connect the dots and you'll trace the path of the Cassini spacecraft as it took a final turn by Earth on its way to the outer solar system. The dots (in a horizontal row just below center) are actually successive images of the spacecraft. The picture was produced by making exposures at 10 minute intervals as Cassini moved rapidly through Earth's night sky on August 18 - around the time of its closest approach. Cassini's ultimate destination is Saturn, but so far its voyage has consisted of a series of fuel saving "gravity assist" flybys of Venus and Earth, each designed to result in an increase in the spacecraft's speed. During this Earth flyby Cassini received about a 12,000 mile- per-hour (5.5 km/sec) boost. Cassini is now being maneuvered toward yet another slingshot encounter, this time a December 2000 flyby of of gas giant Jupiter, to received a final boost toward Saturn. The wayfaring spacecraft is slated to arrive at long last in the Saturnian system in 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 12, 1999 - Venus: Just Passing By
Explanation: Venus, the second closest planet to the Sun, is a popular way-point for spacecraft headed for the gas giant planets in the outer reaches of the solar system. Why visit Venus first? Using a " gravity assist " maneuver, spacecraft can swing by planets and gain energy during their brief encounter saving fuel for use at the end of their long interplanetary voyage. This colorized image of Venus was recorded by the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft shortly after its gravity assist flyby of Venus in February of 1990. Galileo's glimpse of the veiled planet shows structure in swirling sulfuric acid clouds. The bright area is sunlight glinting off the upper cloud deck. The Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft will complete its own second flyby of Venus on June 24th. Launched in October of 1997, Cassini should reach Saturn in July 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 5, 1998 - Natural Saturn On The Cassini Cruise
Explanation: What you could see approaching Saturn aboard an interplanetary cruise ship would closely resemble this subtly shaded view of the gorgeous ringed gas giant. Processed by the Hubble Heritage project, the picture intentionally avoids overemphasizing color contrasts and presents a natural looking Saturn with cloud bands, storms, nearly edge-on rings, and the small round shadow of the moon Enceladus near the center of the planet's disk. Of course, seats were not available on the only ship currently enroute - the Cassini spacecraft, launched just over a year ago and scheduled to arrive at Saturn in the year 2004. After an extended cruise to a world 1,400 million kilometers from the Sun, Cassini will tour the Saturnian system, conducting a remote, robotic exploration with software and instruments designed by denizens of planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 1, 1998 - Venus: Just Passing By
Explanation: Venus, the second closest planet to the Sun, is a popular way-point for spacecraft headed for the gas giant planets in the outer reaches of the solar system. Why visit Venus first? Using a " gravity assist " maneuver, spacecraft can swing by planets and gain energy during their brief encounter saving fuel for use at the end of their long interplanetary voyage. This colorized image of Venus was recorded by the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft shortly after its gravity assist flyby of Venus in February of 1990. Galileo's glimpse of the veiled planet shows structure in swirling sulfuric acid clouds. The bright area is sunlight glinting off the upper cloud deck. The Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft just completed its own flyby of Venus on April 26. Launched in October of 1997, Cassini should reach Saturn in July 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 16, 1997 - Cassini To Venus
Explanation: NASA's Saturn Explorer Cassini with ESA's Titan Probe Huygens attached successfully rocketed into the skies early yesterday morning. The mighty Titan 4B Centaur rocket is seen here across the water gracefully arcing away from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Station. Cassini, a sophisticated, bus-sized robot spacecraft is now on its way ... to Venus, the first planetary way point in its 7 year, 2.2 billion mile journey to Saturn. The mission profile calls for Cassini to swing by Venus during April 1998 and June 1999, Earth in August 1999, and Jupiter in December 2000. During each of these "gravity assist" encounters the six ton spacecraft will pick up energy needed to reach Saturn in July 2004. Cassini's mission is the most ambitious voyage of interplanetary exploration ever mounted by humanity and the Huygens Probe's planned descent to the surface of Titan will be the most distant landing ever attempted.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 29, 1997 - Cassini To Saturn
Explanation: Scheduled for launch in October, the Cassini spacecraft will spend seven years traveling through the Solar System -- its destination, Saturn. On arrival Cassini will begin an ambitious mission of exploration which will include parachuting a probe to the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. This artist's vision offers a dramatic view of Cassini's engine firing during the SOI (Saturn Orbit Insertion) maneuver as it passes above the ring plane. Before the development of the telescope, the gas giant Saturn was the most distant planet known to astronomers. Ten times farther from the Sun it receives only 1 percent of the sunlight that Earth does. Operating in this faint sunlight, the Cassini spacecraft can't use solar arrays so, like other missions to the outer Solar System, it will be powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 2, 1996 - Galileo, Cassini, and the Great Red Spot
Explanation: Imagine a hurricane that lasted for 300 years! Jupiter's Great Red Spot indeed seems to be a giant hurricane-like storm system rotating with the Jovian clouds. Observed in 1655 by Italian-French astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini it is seen here over 300 years later - still going strong - in a mosaic of recent Galileo spacecraft images. The Great Red Spot is a cold, high pressure area 2-3 times wider than planet Earth. Its outer edge rotates in a counter clockwise direction about once every six days. Jupiter's own rapid rotation period is a brief 10 hours. The Solar System's largest gas giant planet, it is presently well placed for evening viewing. (APOD thanks to Alan Radecki for assembling a preliminary mosaic from the Galileo imagery!)

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 16, 1996 - A Portrait of Saturn from Titan
Explanation: The above artistic portrait of Saturn depicts how it might look from Titan, Saturn's largest moon. In the foreground sits ESA's Huygens probe, which will be released by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The Cassini mission to Saturn in currently planned for launch in late 1997. Cassini will reach Saturn in 2004 and will release the Huygens probe later that year. Titan is one of only two moons in the Solar System to have an atmosphere, It has been suggested Titan might have gasoline-like lakes, and may even harbor life.


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