Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/02/missing_planet/

Cassini eats Saturn

How else to explain the pictures?

By Lucy Sherriff

Posted in Science, 2nd March 2007 14:11 GMT

The Cassini spacecraft has moved into a new orbit around Saturn, soaring to ever higher latitudes and greater distances from the planet. The result is that the craft has been able to capture some truly unusual new pictures of the ringed planet.

An unusual view of Saturn

"Finally, here are the views that we've waited years for," said Dr Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute. "Sailing high above Saturn and seeing the rings spread out beneath us like a giant, copper medallion is like exploring an alien world we've never seen before. It just doesn't look like the same place. It's so utterly breath-taking it almost gives you vertigo."

In the picture shown above, the planet was deliberately overexposed, and later cut from the picture altogether. This meant the details of the rings could be caught in all their glory, with the missing planet casting its shadow across them.

The image is made of 27 separate exposures - nine each in red, blue and green - that were snapped over a 45 minute period. Because of the gaps between the exposures, clumps of material in some of the rings had moved in between shots. Cassini scientists say this adds to a sense of movement in the image.

Over the next few months, Cassini's incline will be gradually lowered so that by June it will be orbiting in line with the plane of the rings once again. ®