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The Cassini narrow angle camera took this image of Saturn on Feb. 16, 2004 from a distance of 66.1 million kilometers (41.1 million miles) in a special filter which reveals clouds and hazes high in the atmosphere. The image scale is 397 kilometers (247 miles) per pixel.
The MT2 spectral filter samples a near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum where methane gas absorbs light at a wavelength of 727 nanometers. It is one of three methane filters which will be used to estimate the altitudes and thickness of clouds and hazes. Methane gas is uniformly mixed with hydrogen, the main gas in Saturn's atmosphere. Dark locales are places of strong methane absorption, relatively free of high clouds; the bright areas are places with high, thick clouds which shield the methane below. Differences in brightness from one place to the next reveal differences in the altitudes and thickness of the clouds. This image reveals a high thick equatorial cloud and a relatively deep or thin haze encircling the pole, as well as several distinct latitude bands with different cloud height attributes. It also shows a high atmospheric disturbance, just south of the equator, which has persisted throughout the 1990's in images returned by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Also visible in the image are four of Saturn's moons (clockwise from above right): Enceladus (504 km, 313 mi across), Mimas (396 km, 246 mi), Tethys (1,062 km, 660 mi) and Rhea (1,528 km, 949 mi across). The brightnesses of Mimas and Enceladus have been enhanced by a factor of 3.
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.