September 19, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Cassini Photographs Earth from Saturn, Discovers New Ring

A new ring, geysers from a distance, and our home planet from 930 million miles away – these and more wonders are visible in new photos taken by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.  Now at opposition (facing the sun), the orbiter’s cameras can pick out fainter details in backlighting.  Highlights of the three published photos include:

  1. New ring:  PIA08322 shows a new faint ring between the G and F rings, never before seen.  It is aligned with the orbits of the moons Janus and Epimetheus.  Scientists found it surprising to see such a well-defined structure here.  The G ring also is shown to have a sharp inner edge, while the E ring is broad and diffuse.
  2. Enceladus in action:  The geysers of Enceladus can be seen erupting from 1.3 million miles away in image PIA08321.  The ejected material, extending a remarkable distance from the small moon, is seen to perturb the E ring.
  3. Our blue dot of home:  In what is sure to be a historic centerpiece of the growing Cassini catalog, image PIA08324 shows our Earth, 930 million miles away, as a faint dot between the G and E rings of Saturn.  A magnified image (inset) shows the pale moon behind the left limb of the Earth.  A closer look at the left side of the image also shows Enceladus, spouting away, inside the E ring.

These images were taken Sept. 17 and released the afternoon of Sept. 19; see also the imaging team website at Ciclops.

These are the kind of pictures that can leave you speechless, and even bring tears to your eyes..  Cherish these special moments of discovery; we can talk more about the Enceladus geysers later and what they indicate.  Look at that “pale blue dot” again, and think of all that is going on down there.  Time to watch The Privileged Planet again tonight.

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Categories: Solar System

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