Slipping through the Rings

As Cassini coasts into the final month of its seven-year trek, the serene majesty of its destination looms ahead. The spacecraft’s cameras are functioning beautifully and continue to return stunning views from Cassini’s position, 1.2 billion kilometers (750 million miles) from Earth and now 15.7 million kilometers (9.8 million miles) from Saturn.

Close view of Saturn. Image Credit: Space Science Institute

In this narrow angle camera image from May 21, 2004, the ringed planet displays subtle, multi-hued atmospheric bands, colored by yet undetermined compounds. Cassini mission scientists hope to determine the exact composition of this material.

This image also offers a preview of the detailed survey Cassini will conduct on the planet’s dazzling rings. Slight differences in color denote both differences in ring particle composition and light scattering properties.

Images taken through blue, green and red filters were combined to create this natural color view. The image scale is 132 kilometers (82 miles) per pixel.

The path that lies ahead for the Cassini -Huygens mission is indicated in this image which illustrates where the spacecraft will be just 27 days from now, when it arrives at Saturn and crosses the ring plane 25 minutes before performing its critical orbital insertion maneuver.

Right X marks the crossing point between F and G ring systems. Image Credit: Space Science Institute

The X indicates the point where Cassini will pierce the ring plane on June 30, 2004, going from south to north of the ring plane, 25 minutes before the main engine fires to begin orbital insertion. The indicated point is between the narrow F-ring on the left and Saturn’s tenuous G-ring which is too faint to be seen in this exposure.

The image was taken on May 11, 2004 when the spacecraft was 26.3 million kilometers (16.3 million miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 158 kilometers (98 miles) per pixel. Moons visible in this image: Janus (181 kilometers, 113 miles across), one of the co-orbital moons; Pandora (84 kilometers, 52 miles across), one of the F ring shepherding moons. Not shown is the interesting moon just below Pandora, Enceladus (499 kilometers, 310 miles across), which may be heated from within and thus have a liquid sub-surface ocean.


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 Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

Related Web Pages

Chronology of a Scientific Safari
Ring Recycling
Lord of the Rings
Long, Strange Trips
Titan’s Icy Bedrock
Saturn– JPL Cassini Main Page
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