Give it a few hundred years, and I’m quite sure Saturn is destined to be one of the great tourist attractions of our solar system. And here’s why!
This breathtaking image of our Solar system’s second largest planet shows Saturn passing in front of the Sun. With the Sun almost directly behind it, the planet’s rings are illuminated in all their glory, reflecting light back onto the planet itself to light up its night side. Darkness is likely to be a rare commodity in the turbulent cronian clouds. It’s hard to believe at first that this is an actual image and not some computer generated artwork.
One thing that’s hard to fully appreciate in an image like this is the full grandeur of what you’re seeing. Cassini was 800000 km away from Saturn when this image was taken, but still it took a lot more than one frame to capture this full spectacle. Instead, this is an composite image, made up of 60 individual photographs. If you were actually there, this sight would take up a significant percentage of the sky!
Because I like to close on a scientific note, there’s one other thing which this image shows rather nicely. You see around the edge of the planet there? There seems to be a bright rim around the planet’s disk. That’s from sunlight shining through Saturn’s atmosphere, illuminating the clouds it passes through. This happens with any planets which have atmospheres as they pass in front of their parent stars – and it’s the best shot we have at peering into the atmospheres of distant exoplanets.