CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
Skipping a Ring

Skipping a Ring
PIA 11602

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  The moon Janus casts a shadow on Saturn's A ring but misses the thin F ring in this image captured as the planet approached its August 2009 equinox.

The moon itself is not pictured, and the shadow has missed the thin F ring because the moon has inclined orbit. See PIA11543 for a similar image of Pandora's shadow. Janus' shadow here reaches past the Encke Gap of the A ring. The Cassini Division runs from the middle right to the top left of the image. The image has been cropped and zoomed-in by a factor of two.

The novel illumination geometry that accompanies equinox lowers the sun's angle to the ringplane, significantly darkens the rings, and causes out-of-plane structures to look anomalously bright and cast shadows across the rings. These scenes are possible only during the few months before and after Saturn's equinox which occurs only once in about 15 Earth years. Before and after equinox, Cassini's cameras have spotted not only the predictable shadows of some of Saturn's moons (see PIA11657), but also the shadows of newly revealed vertical structures in the rings themselves (see PIA11665).

This view looks toward the northern, unilluminated side of the rings from about 52 degrees above the ringplane.

The image was taken in visible red light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on May 28, 2009. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.3 million kilometers (808,000 miles) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 53 degrees. Image scale is 77 kilometers (48 miles) per pixel.

The Cassini Equinox 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 Equinox Mission visit, and

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Released: October 15, 2009 (PIA 11602)
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