Nine days before it entered orbit, Cassini captured this exquisite natural color view of of Saturn's rings. The images that comprise this composition were obtained from Cassini's vantage point beneath the ring plane with the narrow angle camera on June 21, 2004, from a distance of 6.4 million kilometers (4 million miles) from Saturn and a phase angle of 66 degrees. The image scale is 38 kilometers (23 miles) per pixel.
The brightest part of the rings, curving from the upper right to the lower left in the image, is the B ring. Many bands throughout the B ring have a pronounced sandy color. Other color variations across the rings can be seen. Color variations in Saturn's rings have previously been seen in Voyager and Hubble Space Telescope images. Cassini's images show that color variations in the rings are more pronounced in this viewing geometry than they are when seen from Earth. Saturn's rings are made primarily of water ice. Since pure water ice is white, it is believed that different colors in the rings reflect different amounts of contamination by other materials such as rock or carbon compounds. In conjunction with other Cassini instruments, Cassini images will help to determine the composition of different parts of Saturn's ring system.
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 consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.