CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
The Tallest Peaks

The Tallest Peaks
PIA 11668

Avg Rating: 9.63/10

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  Vertical structures, among the tallest seen in Saturn's main rings, rise abruptly from the edge of Saturn's B ring to cast long shadows on the ring in this image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft two weeks before the planet's August 2009 equinox.

Part of the Cassini Division, between the B and the A rings, appears at the top of the image, showing ringlets in the inner division.

In this image, Cassini's narrow angle camera captured a 1,200-kilometer-long (750-mile-long) section arcing along the outer edge of the B ring. Here, vertical structures tower as high as 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) above the plane of the rings -- a significant deviation from the vertical thickness of the main A, B and C rings, which is generally only about 10 meters (about 30 feet).

Cassini scientists believe that this is one prominent region at the outer edge of the B ring where large bodies, or moonlets, up to a kilometer or more in size, are found. It is possible that these bodies significantly affect the ring material streaming past them and force the particles upward, in a "splashing" manner.

This image and others like it (see PIA11669) are only possible around the time of Saturn's equinox, which occurs every half-Saturn-year, or about every 15 Earth years. The illumination geometry that accompanies equinox lowers the sun's angle to the ring plane and causes structures jutting out of the plane to cast long shadows across the rings. The "season" of equinox allows shadows to appear on the rings in the months before and after equinox, but the actual equinox occurred August 11, 2009, as the sun shone directly edge-on to the ring plane.

This view looks toward the southern, sunlit side of the rings from about 32 degrees below the ring plane.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 26, 2009. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 336,000 kilometers (209,000 miles) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 132 degrees. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel.

The Cassini Solstice Mission is a joint United States and European endeavor. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. 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 Solstice Mission visit, and

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Released: November 1, 2010 (PIA 11668)
Image/Caption Information

Alliance Member Comments
Iapetus Monolith (Nov 30, 2010 at 6:58 PM):
Even though my head is cosmic, I'm having difficulty getting it around this image: what are those white diagonal striations (resembling asbestos fibres) and how come they are almost perpendicular to the shadows?
Dragon_of_Luck_Mah_Jonng1971 (Nov 7, 2010 at 3:03 PM):
Fantastic Image ! ( My rating was '12' . ) Very interesting image. A lot of details.
Red_dragon (Nov 5, 2010 at 7:05 AM):
Simply put, amazing. Despite the "Daily Image" has become a "Weekly Image", keep this great stuff coming as you've done so many years.

(PD: Hope everything goes fine with Cassini. This has worried me:
NeKto (Nov 2, 2010 at 2:50 PM):
Between this image and a movie of the resonant edge movement of the B ring (that i can't find at the moment) there is a visual sugestion of Texture; "course grains" at the outer edge of the ring and smaller grains, smoother texture in the body of the ring. Could larger particles be selectively collecting near the outer edge? Or perhaps the oscilations produce a higher density that makes the course apearance? The whole picture looks very reminiscent of large scale spice grinding to me. Could large particles agregate at the edge and be "ground" into finer particles by the oscilation?
rochelimit (Nov 2, 2010 at 7:01 AM):
looks like a giant speedboat just drive through the ring, leaving a giant splash! it's amazing how a small and rather slow moving moonlet/moon/whatever are able to make such disturbances

i have a question though, how far should we look to be able to see the individual boulders in the B ring? I guess the material that are splashed from the ring are tiny though, largest are probably 5-10 meter only?
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Nov 1, 2010 at 4:07 PM):
rulesfor: That's one way to put it!
rulesfor (Nov 1, 2010 at 3:22 PM):
This is ridiculously awesome!