September 28, 2010
Shadows seem ubiquitous in this Cassini spacecraft view of Saturn's rings captured shortly after the planet's August 2009 equinox.
The moon Pan (28 kilometers, or 17 miles across) casts a long shadow towards the right from where it orbits in the Encke Gap of the A ring in the upper right of the image. A structure in the thin F ring casts a short shadow on that ring in the upper left of the image. Kinky ringlets in the Encke Gap also cast many shadows in the middle and lower portions of the image, but some of those shadows appear faint.
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).
Two background stars are visible in this image.
This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from about 11 degrees above the ringplane.
The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 19, 2009. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 13 kilometers (8 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