She may not be roving around the red planet or have an incredibly complex skycrane system, but Cassini’s still got it. The NASA mission that made it to Saturn in 2005 and delivered its payload to Titan is still sending back amazing pictures from the ringed gas giant. Seemingly in an effort to remind people that there’s more to space exploration that Mars, NASA has released these stunning new pictures of Saturn and its smog-covered moon, Titan.
The first image was taken with a wide-angle camera from about 483,000 miles away from Titan. It shows the moon captured beautifully against Saturn and its rings as the planet’s southern hemisphere gets closer to its winter season. Due to the changing season, the hemisphere below the ring plane of Saturn starts to turn bluish as the clearing atmosphere begins to scatter sunlight for blue skies, much like we have on Earth.
The second image shows Titan playing peek-a-boo through Saturn’s rings. From this perspective you can get a good sense of the hazy envelope of atmosphere around the moon. The black band in the rings is actually part of Saturn’s shadow and not a coloration of the rings themselves. Saturn’s rings are mostly made up of ice and range in size from tiny crystals up to 10 meters across.
In the third image, we get a much closer look at Titan and its atmosphere. In the southern hemisphere you can clearly make out the new polar vortex that appeared earlier this year. These polar vortexes appear at both the north and south poles of Titan in conjunction with each hemisphere’s winter season. Scientists believe that the southern polar vortex will expand into a polar hood as winter advances.
The fourth and final image is a gorgeous view of Titan’s night side, and provides a beautiful view of the moon’s silhouette. If you look at the southern portion of the moon you can see how the southern polar vortex reaches up to the very top of the atmosphere.
Awesome views, and even if you don’t appreciate NASA’s mission of space exploration and furthering our knowledge of the universe, you have to appreciate their contribution to neat-looking desktop wallpapers.