The complex structure of Saturn's quirky F ring is unfurled in this mosaic made up of images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
The mosaic covers 255 degrees of longitude within the F ring, which represents about 70 percent of the ring's circumference around Saturn. From top to bottom, the mosaic represents an area 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) in radial width.
The 107 images used to create the mosaic were processed to make the ring appear as if it has been straightened, making it easier to see the ring's structure. Here, the vertical axis represents distance from Saturn and the horizontal axis represents longitude around Saturn. This frame of reference is centered on the bright core of the F ring, at the vertical center of the mosaic. In this system, the core is considered to be stationary; objects closer to Saturn (or below vertical center) move toward right, and objects farther from Saturn (here, above the core) move toward left.
Ring scientists now understand a great deal about what causes the various features in the ring. In addition to the powerful perturbing effect of the moon Prometheus (see The Prometheus Effect), there is thought to be a population of small objects in the F-ring region that interact with the ring's core to produce the structures seen (see The Clump/Moon Mystery). Two of the images had flaws, which caused the vertical lines seen on the right side of the mosaic. There is also a faint, roughly vertical, wavelike pattern in the view, which is an artifact of the process used to straighten the ring's shape.
The clear spectral filter images in this mosaic were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on March 31, 2007, at a distance of about 2 million kilometers (1.2 million miles) from Saturn.
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