Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

2004 April 30
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Eyeful of Saturn
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

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.

Tomorrow's picture: skyscape

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