Saturn and its rings completely fill the field of view of Cassini's narrow angle camera in this natural color image taken on March 27, 2004. This is the last single `eyeful' of Saturn and its rings achievable with the narrow angle camera on approach to the planet. From now until orbit insertion, the rings will be larger than the camera's field of view. The image is a composite of three exposures in red, green, and blue, taken when the spacecraft was 47.7 million kilometers (29.7 million miles) from the planet. The image scale is 286 kilometers (178 miles) per pixel.
Color variations between atmospheric bands and features in the southern hemisphere of the planet, as well as subtle color differences across Saturn's middle B ring, are now more distinct than ever. Color variations generally imply different compositions. The nature and causes of any compositional differences in both the atmosphere and the rings are major questions to be investigated by Cassini scientists as the mission progresses.
The bright blue sliver of light in the northern hemisphere is sunlight passing through the Cassini Division in Saturn's rings and being scattered by the cloud-free upper atmosphere.
Two faint dark spots are visible in the southern hemisphere. These spots are close to the latitude where Cassini saw two storms merging in mid-March. The fate of the storms visible here is unclear. They are getting close and will eventually merge or squeeze past each other. Further analysis of such dynamic systems in Saturn's atmosphere will help scientists understand their origins and complex interactions.
Moons visible in this image are (clockwise from top right): Enceladus (504 kilometers, 313 miles across), Mimas (396 kilometers, 246 miles across), Tethys (1,062 kilometers, 660 miles across), and Epimetheus (113 kilometers, 70 miles across). Epimetheus is dim and appears just above the left edge of the rings. Brightnesses have been exaggerated to aid visibility.
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.