CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
Darkness Falls on Rhea

Darkness Falls on Rhea
PIA 11143

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  The Cassini spacecraft's narrow angle camera captured Saturn's moon Rhea as it gradually slipped into the planet's shadow - an event known as "ingress" - on August 19, 2008.

Seventeen consecutive clear-filter images are in this movie showing an eclipse ingress across the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Rhea. Because sunlight still penetrates the planet's upper atmosphere and the sun has a finite size, the shadow of Saturn cast onto Rhea does not form a sharp line.

North on Saturn and Rhea is up in these images. The shadow moves from the upper left to lower right (northwest to southeast) because the moon's orbital plane around Saturn is inclined relative to the path, called the ecliptic, that the sun takes around the moon as viewed from its surface.

With Saturn approaching its August 2009 equinox in its orbit around the sun, the motion of the planet's shadow during future eclipses will trend more towards west-to-east (left-to-right) on ingress. After 2009, the trend will reverse, and the motion of Saturn's shadow will become more southwest-to-northeast, until the inclination of the orbital plane (relative to the ecliptic) becomes so large that Saturn's shadow no longer intersects with the orbits of moons such as Rhea and eclipse "season" ends.

The first frame of the movie displays Rhea's hemispherical reflectivity dichotomy. The left half of the moon, its leading hemisphere, is remarkably brighter than the right half, its trailing hemisphere. Saturn's E-ring particles, which have their origins in the famous jets of the small moon Enceladus, preferentially impact Rhea's leading hemisphere, churning up its surface and enhancing its reflectivity. Saturn's extremely tenuous E ring is so extensive that no fewer than 11 moons orbit within it.

These images were acquired at a solar phase, or sun-Rhea-spacecraft, angle of about 28 degrees at a distance of approximately 450,000 kilometers (280,000 miles). Image scale is around 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) per pixel.

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 Science Mission Directorate, 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.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit and the Cassini imaging team home page,

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Released: April 2, 2009 (PIA 11143)
Image/Caption Information

Alliance Member Comments
Red_dragon (Sep 26, 2009 at 11:09 AM):
I agree with bruno.thiery... the effect also is quite dramatic.
bruno.thiery (Jan 24, 2009 at 3:14 AM):
Beautiful... Remember Pitch Black (the movie)?

What a fascinating sight. Now I realise how tiny Rhea is - or rather how giant Saturn is.