CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
A Splendor Seldom Seen

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.) In addition to the visual splendor, this special, very-high-phase viewing geometry lets scientists study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase.

Since images like this can only be taken while the sun is behind the planet, this beautiful view is all the more precious for its rarity. The last time Cassini captured a view like this was in Sept. 2006, when it captured a mosaic processed to look like natural color, entitled "In Saturn's Shadow-The Pale Blue Dot" (See PIA08329.) In that mosaic, planet Earth put in a special appearance, making "In Saturn's Shadow" one of the most popular Cassini images to date. Earth does not appear in this mosaic as it is hidden behind the planet.

Also captured in this image are two of Saturn's moons: Enceladus and Tethys. Both appear on the left side of the planet, below the rings. Enceladus is closer to the rings; Tethys is below and to the left.

This view looks toward the non-illuminated side of the rings from about 19 degrees below the ring plane.

Images taken using infrared, red and violet spectral filters were combined to create this enhanced-color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Oct. 17, 2012 at a distance of approximately 500,000 miles (800,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale at Saturn is about 30 miles per pixel (50 kilometers 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-Caltech/SSI
Released: December 18, 2012 (PIA 14934)
Image/Caption Information
  A Splendor Seldom Seen
PIA 14934

Avg Rating: 9.22/10

Full Size 6672x3104:
PNG 8.6 MB
TIFF 15.9 MB

Half Size 3336x1552:
PNG 2.7 MB

Quarter Size 1668x776:
PNG 769 KB

Alliance Member Comments
NeKto (May 14, 2013 at 9:12 AM):
it just makes me feel better.
sustayne (Mar 12, 2013 at 8:19 AM):
This image alone stands as absolute proof that we have not yet developed a vocabulary which accurately conveys that which is sublimely pristine on many levels. And to think, there are those among us who get the privilege of seeing this not through mechanical eyes. Yes, life is unfair.
Seryddwr (Dec 23, 2012 at 6:02 PM):
CheshireCat (Dec 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM):
Those are stars. There are actually 9 stars theoretically visible if you stretch the image and search hard enough, but they're awfully faint.

I don't have the exact amount of motion blur available, but the hand-wavey answer is: not much. At least, not for a given exposure. Each exposure lasts for around a second (some less, some for a a bit more). In that time, the spacecraft doesn't move a lot as far as its view of distant objects like Saturn and the moons are concerned. (My quick calculation says perhaps a few tenths of a pixel for the longest exposures. For most exposures, much less than that.) On the other hand, this mosaic is made up of many exposures and in the total time it took to take all of the images, there was distinct movement of both spacecraft and moons.
thefuz (Dec 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM):
Can anyone identify the other bodies in the picture? There are a few other dots that resemble Tethys and Enceladus in color.
- Immediately to the right of Enceladus
- Immediately to the left of the outer ring near the vertical midpoint of the ring structure
- In the middle of the open space in the upper right quadrant of the image
What an awesome photo - thanks Cassini (team)!
hank (Dec 19, 2012 at 10:39 AM):
Question -- how much motion blur is in the image? The caption identifies the pixel area, but how much motion is there -- across/inside each pixel for the exposure taken?
jsc248 (Dec 19, 2012 at 6:17 AM):
I wish my old friend Patrick Moore could have seen this image, he would have been spellbound by it, as I am.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Carolyn and the team at CICLOPS and to all alliance members to!!
martin young (Dec 19, 2012 at 5:23 AM):
Stunning clarity, I wish Carl Sagan could have seen this. You have excelled yourselves again Ciclops!
toomanytribbles (Dec 19, 2012 at 2:35 AM):
a thrilling picture. it made my day.
thank you, ciclops team!
Red_dragon (Dec 19, 2012 at 2:16 AM):
In Saturn's Shadow returns. Simply put, jaw-dropping. Excellent work, CICLOPS!.