Astronomy Picture of the Day
December 10, 2014

Ringed Beauty
Ringed Beauty

Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute - Credits for the additional process. and color.: Dr Paolo C. Fienga/LXTT/IPF

Although they appear solid-looking in very many images, Saturn's Rings are - as we know now - actually translucent. In this picture, taken with the NASA - Cassini Spacecraft's Wide-Angle Camera on August 12, 2014 in Near-InfraRed Light centered at 752 nanometers, we can glimpse the Shadow of the Rings on the Gas-Giant Planet through (and below) the A and C Rings themselves, towards the lower right (Dx) hand corner of the frame.

As a matter of fact, for centuries, countless Astronomers have studied Saturn's Rings, but questions about their structure and composition lingered (---> remained pending and unanwered). It was only in the AD 1857, when the Physicist James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that the Rings must have been composed of many small Particles of Ice and Rock, and it was not until the 1970s that Spectroscopic evidence definitively showed that the Rings are actually composed - mostly - of Rocks, Dust and large quantities of Water Ice.

This view looks toward the Sunlit Side of the Rings from about 17° above the Ring-Plane and it was obtained at a distance of approximately 1,4 Million Miles (such as approx. 2,253 Million KiloMeters) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-NASA - Cassini Spacecraft, or Phase, Angle of 24°. Image scale is roughly 85 miles (such as about 136,79 Km) per pixel.

This frame (which is an Original NASA - Cassini Spacecraft b/w frame published on the NASA - Planetary Photojournal with the ID n. PIA 18295) has been additionally processed, contrast enhanced, magnified to aid visibility of the details of the Saturnian Atmosphere and then colorized, according to an educated guess carried out by Dr Paolo C. Fienga/LXX/IPF, in Absolute Natural Colors (such as the colors that a human eye would actually perceive if someone were onboard the NASA - Cassini Spacecraft and then looked outside, towards the Gas-Giant Planet Saturn), by using an original technique created - and, in time, dramatically improved - by the Lunar Explorer Italia Team. Different colors, as well as different shades of the same color, mean, among others, the existence of different Elements (---> Gases) present in the Upper Atmosphere of Saturn, each having a different Albedo (---> Reflectivity) and Chemical Composition.

Note: it is possible (but we, as IPF, have no way to be one-hundred-percent sure of such a circumstance), that the actual luminosity of Saturn - as it is in this frame - would appear, to an average human eye, way lower than it has been shown (or, better yet: interpreted) here.

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