Saturn at Night

I don’t know about you, but amid all the news of terror threats,unemployment, the western power outage and the like, I could stand a little mental health break. If you’d like one too, it helps put our problems in perspective. Here goes.

It’s a wonderful image of the planet Saturn, shot in 2006 by the Cassinispacecraft as it passed through Saturn’s shadow in orbit around the planet. If you want to get into real detail, you can find a very large version (more in a minute on why you’ll want to) by clicking HERE.

(It’s gone viral on the web today. NASA made it its “Astronomy Picture of the Day” on Sept. 4, and it accidentally wound up on other sites as if it were new.)

What’s worth noting about this image? A few things:

–First, Saturn’s not all dark at night.  It’s lit by sunlight reflected from its rings.  The Earth, in a comparable picture, would be black, perhaps with lights from some of the larger cities.  If you could stand on Saturn (it may not be possible; nobody knows what’s beneath those murky layers of ammonia and methane gas), the nights would be something to behold.

–Second, look how bright the rings are in this view, even when completely back-lit.  Sunlight is bouncing among the pieces of ice that make up the rings.

Finally (and this is why you may want to go to the large version), do you see the tiny dotto the left of Saturn, just above the edge of its brightest rings?  That’s us.



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