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Saturn floats on gossamer rings

It's been a year since Saturn's equinox, but the pictures from that magical moment are still being processed and shared by the imaging team for the Cassini spacecraft. The latest image, based on data acquired in July 2009 from a distance of 1.3 million miles, shows the shadows from Saturn's gossamer rings falling on the planet's disk as a single narrow band.

A section of Saturn's gauzy D ring can barely be seen against the backdrop of the planet's southern hemisphere toward the right corner of the image.

During the equinox, Saturn's rings are precisely edge-on with respect to the sun, rendering them virtually invisible. Believe it or not, in this image the rings have been brightened by a factor of 9.5 relative to the planet to enhance their visibility. The unusual lighting conditions, which occur only every 15 Earth years or so, highlight peaks and propellers in the rings that usually go unnoticed. To see some of those oddities, check out this archived Cosmic Log item and this Saturn slideshow. And don't forget to pay a visit to the Cassini imaging team's image gallery, which today features a nice pairing of the Saturnian moons Tethys and Titan.


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