Stunning Close-Up Picture of Saturn and Its Massive Moon Titan

NASA's Cassini mission captures the planet's rings and the shadows they cast as the seasons change.

682398main_pia14922-43_946-710.jpeg

NASA's Cassini spacecraft took six images on May 6, 2012, to give us this natural-color portrait of Saturn. To give you some idea of the (ridiculous) scale of these objects, when Cassini took the pictures, it was about 483,000 miles away from Saturn's moon, Titan, which, at 3,200 miles across, is the planet's largest moon -- larger than the planet Mercury.

In the image, hints of seasonal change are apparent. When Cassini first arrived at the planet in 2004, the northern hemisphere was a clearer blue. That color is now fading in the north, but beginning to appear in the souther hemisphere as it moves into winter. The color, NASA says, comes from a reduced intensity of ultraviolet light and a dissipation of atmospheric haze, which means that sunlight is scattered by the molecules in the air, much as it is in Earth's atmosphere. Additionally, the presence of methane in Saturn's atmosphere intensifies the blue color.

Sunlight, streaming in from the north, falls on the planet's icy rings, casting massive shadows across the southern hemisphere.

Sometimes, to me at least, Saturn, its rings, and its moons just look so haunting, so perfect, that it's hard to remember that they actually exist, in all their massive glory, and sit in space not too far from our earth, at least when measuring by cosmic standards. They seem more like works of art than objects of rock and gas. That's even all the more true when they are presented to you like this:

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it. They are repulsed by it."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it."

Video

What's Your Favorite Slang Word?

From "swag" to "on fleek," tweens choose.

Video

Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.

Video

How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in Technology

Just In