Saturn up close: NASA's outer space photo shoot with the ringed planet

Eric Pfeiffer

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has compiled an incredibly detailed, never-before-seen view of Saturn that is a visual treat to behold.

For readers, the smaller images housed within this article truly don't do the images justice. You'll want to download the full 9000x3500-size image in all of its 21MB glory.

Back on July 19, 2013, Cassini was positioned to capture the images of Saturn with the sun largely blocked behind Saturn’s circumference, providing near-perfect backlighting.

The outer space photo shoot resulted in incredibly detailed images of Saturn, its seven moons, the planet’s inner rings and even images of Earth in the distance.

Over the course of about four hours, Cassini’s wide-angle cameras captured 323 images in blue, green and red spectral filters. Those images were then combined together to create the most accurate representation of Saturn and its seven moons. Amazingly, the images capture 404,880 miles of space.

The composite image and an explanation of the shoot is hosted on the site for the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) website.

“This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn's orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance,” reads an explanation in the post entitled “The Day the Earth Smiled.”

The Cassini Solstice Mission is a joint project between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an imaging team with experts from the U.S., England, France and Germany based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Slate’s Phil Plait has taken an in-depth look at the images and found some incredible details, including the image of Earth in the background and an image of the moon Enceladus, with geysers of liquid water erupting from its south pole.

“This view of Enceladus is truly incredible,” Plait says. “It was far enough out in the picture to show a half-moon phase, the dark half to the left, away from the Sun. It’s embedded in the diffuse E ring, which itself is created by the geysers on the moon, blasting tiny particles of ice into space, which then circle Saturn on their own.”


 What does Earth look like from Saturn?