Astronomy Picture of the Day – In the Shadow of Saturn’s Rings

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 July 3

In the Shadow of Saturn’s Rings 

 Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/J. Major

 Explanation: Humanity’s  robot orbiting Saturn has recorded yet another amazing view. That robot, of course, is the  spacecraft Cassini, while the new amazing view includes a  bright moon,  thin rings,  oddly broken clouds, and  warped shadows. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appears above as a featureless tan as it is continually shrouded in thick clouds. The rings of Saturn are seen as a thin line because they are so flat and imaged nearly edge on. Details of Saturn’s rings are therefore best visible in the  dark ring shadows seen across the giant planet’s cloud tops. Since the ring  particles orbit in the same plane as Titan, they appear to skewer the foreground moon. In the upper hemisphere of Saturn, the clouds show many details, including  dips in long bright bands  indicating disturbances in a high altitude jet stream. Recent precise measurements of how much Titan  flexes as it orbits Saturn hint that  vast oceans of water might exist deep underground.