Shadow and Spokes
November 30, 2009
A moon's shadow strikes Saturn's rings near bright spokes on the B ring near the center of this Cassini image taken about one month after the planet's August 2009 equinox.
Mimas, the moon casting the shadow, is not shown. To learn more about the ghostly radial markings called spokes, see 'Tis the Season for Spokes and The Spoke Search. Spokes appear bright when they are viewed at phase, or Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, angles higher than about 45 degrees. The phase angle in this image is 106 degrees.
The novel illumination geometry that accompanies equinox lowers the sun's angle to the ringplane, significantly darkens the rings, and causes out-of-plane structures to look anomalously bright and cast shadows across the rings. These scenes are possible only during the few months before and after Saturn's equinox, which occurs only once in about 15 Earth years. Before and after equinox, Cassini's cameras have spotted not only the predictable shadows of some of Saturn's moons (see Across Resplendent Rings), but also the shadows of newly revealed vertical structures in the rings themselves (see A Small Find Near Equinox).
This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from about 8 degrees above the ringplane.
The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 9, 2009. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 2.9 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 106 degrees. Image scale is 17 kilometers (11 miles) per pixel.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute