The limb of Saturn appears bright as the Cassini spacecraft peers through several of the planet's rings.
The curvature of the planet can be seen on the bright left half of the image. From top to bottom are the C, B and A rings. The odd appearance of the rings as they cross the limb down the middle of the image is an optical illusion caused by the brightly reflective planet and the darkness of space as seen through rings which have varying densities of particles.
On the left of the image, the dense parts of the rings are blocking light reflected off Saturn, so they appear darker than the less dense parts of the ring that allow light to pass through to the spacecraft's camera. On the right, faint sunlight reflecting off the rings appears brighter than the darkness of space.
The densest parts of the B ring, running through the horizontal center of the image, do not let much of the light reflected off Saturn pass through to the spacecraft's camera. Because the ring itself is lit by sunshine, the B ring appears almost uniform from left to right in the image.
The shadow of the rings on the planet can be discerned darkening a part of the planet on the upper left. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from about 5 degrees above the ringplane.
The original image was taken using a compression scheme that reduces the image file size on the spacecraft's data recorder. Scale in the original image was 20 kilometers (12 miles) per pixel. To enhance the visibility of features, the image was scaled down to 70 percent of its original size. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Dec. 26, 2009. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 225,000 kilometers (140,000 miles) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 7 degrees.
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.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/. The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org.