Broken Rings?


broken ringsThat’s not a gap in Saturn’s rings. It’s the planet’s shadow. During most of Saturn’s year, the planet’s shadow extends well beyond the edge of the rings.  However, with summer solstice fast approaching, the Sun is higher in Saturn’s sky and most of Saturn’s A ring is completely shadow-free.

Saturn’s large moon Titan, its northern hemisphere in sunlight of late spring, hangs above the rings.

Image Credit: NASA

Crossed Rings?


Criss-cross RingsNope, but at first glance, Saturn’s rings seem to be intersecting themselves in an impossible way. This view from the Cassini spacecraft shows the rings in front of the planet and the shadows of the rings on the planets clouds. Because rings like the A ring and Cassini Division are not entirely opaque, those shadows can be seen through the rings themselves. If you look closely, you can spot the moon Pan near image’s center. Pan orbits in a space call the Encke Gap and keeps that band essentially clear.

Image Credit: NASA

A Great Divide


A Great DivideThe rings of Saturn are very thin, but they are very, very wide; the Cassini Division (seen here between the bright B ring and dimmer A ring) is almost as wide as the planet Mercury. The 4,800-km-wide division in Saturn’s rings is probably caused by the moon Mimas. Particles within the division orbit Saturn almost exactly twice for every time Mimas orbits. That results in a series of gravitational nudges from the moon which sculpt the outer edge of the B ring and keep its particles from drifting into the Cassini Division.

Image Credit: NASA

A Summer Solstice Approaches


saturn askewCassini images of Saturn are generally oriented so that Saturn appears north up, but the spacecraft views the planet from all sorts of angles. Here, Saturn seems to sit askew as the tiny moon Dione looks on from lower left. The terminator, which separates night from day, is also tilted because the planet is nearing its northern summer solstice. As a result, the planet’s northern pole is in sunlight all throughout Saturn’s day.

Image Credit: NASA