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Saturn, its rings, and Earth backlit by the Sun

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Saturn, its rings, and Earth backlit by the Sun
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The Cassini probe was able to record this breathtaking view of Saturn on 15 September 2006, from a distance of 2.2 million kilometres.

At the time, the orbiter was for about 12 hours positioned at approximately 15 degrees above the ring plane in the shadow of Saturn with its diameter of 120 000 kilometres.

This enabled the ISS (Imaging Science Subsystem) camera system to record images of the rings for three hours, showing all their details and subtleties; two new ring structures were discovered at the same time.

Beyond the bright, richly contrasted inner ring, first the G ring can be discerned rather clearly. With a bit more effort, the E ring can be identified, extending right up to the side edges of the image; this ring is fed by ice particles from the cryovolcanoes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

With a width of about 300 000 kilometres, the E ring is the largest planetary ring in the Solar System. Looking more closely, you can see a bright dot within the G ring, a familiar, sunlit planet in the inner Solar System: the Earth (see the image with the graphic inset). The two planets are more than a billion kilometres apart.

The image is actually a mosaic consisting of 165 separate photos taken by the ISS wide-angle camera. The colours more or less correspond to reality. The view here is of the dark side of the rings; at Saturn’s lower edge - you can see the rising Sun.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.
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