Saturn in the Cassini era has proved to be an unexpectedly colorful place, compared to the browns and golds imaged by the two Voyager spacecraft.
Saturn is headed toward equinox in 2009, followed by springtime in the northern hemisphere. Having a spacecraft in orbit while such changes occur will be of great benefit in scientists' quest to understand the atmospheres of the giant planets.
The planet's oblate, or squashed, shape is clearly visible in this view. The low-density planet rotates so fast (in about 10.5 hours) that it flattens out slightly around its middle. The bluish tint of the northern latitudes is presumed to be a seasonal effect, and will likely disappear entirely as the north receives increasingly greater amounts of sunlight.
Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 29, 2007 at a distance of approximately 3.1 million kilometers (2 million miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 184 kilometers (115 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 operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute