From its station nearly 1.2 billion kilometers (746 million miles) from Earth, the stalwart Cassini spacecraft sends holiday greetings to Earth with this lovely color portrait of Saturn and two of its moons.
The 2004 holiday season marks the close of a miraculous year that saw the end of Cassini's long journey across the solar system and the beginning of its adventures in orbit around Saturn. In a triumph of human achievement, the Cassini mission has already returned thousands of images and has begun to uncover the mysteries of the Saturn system. This color portrait serves as reminder of the Saturnian places we have already seen and the promise of future discovery at Titan when the European Space Agency's Huygens probe arrives at Titan on Jan. 14, 2005.
The image shows the majestic ringed planet, with bands of colorful clouds in its southern hemisphere. The planet¿s northern extremes have a cool bluish hue, due to scattering of blue wavelengths of sunlight by the cloud-free upper atmosphere there. Long shadows of the icy rings stretch across the north.
A grayish, oval-shaped storm is visible in Saturn's southern hemisphere and is easily 475 kilometers (295 miles) across -- the size of some hurricanes on Earth.
Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across) is visible near lower right with its thick, orange-colored atmosphere, and faint Mimas (398 kilometers, or 247 miles across) appears just right of the rings' outer edge.
Images taken in the red, green and blue filters with the Cassini spacecraft wide angle camera on Dec. 14, 2004, were combined to create this color view at a distance of approximately 719,000 kilometers (447,000 miles) from Saturn. The image scale is 43 kilometers (27 miles) per pixel.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. 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 and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute