New Pictures Of Saturn: NASA Unveils Dazzling New Photos That Capture 405,000 Miles Of Space

By Ben Wolford on November 13, 2013 4:27 PM EST

NASA released a massive new photo of the sixth planet.

NASA released a massive new photo of the sixth planet.

The orbiter that scientists shipped off to Saturn almost a decade ago has been faithfully snapping photos of the sixth planet and beaming them back to earth. On Tuesday, NASA released what might be one of the most dazzling pictures yet — and we're all in it.

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The image captures an inconceivable 405,000 miles of space, including the whole planet, all its famous rings and, best of all, Venus, Mars, the earth and the moon. Can't quite see them? That's OK, they're small... only about 750 million miles or more away. Click here to see a NASA-labeled picture. Zoom in, and we're just a bright speck next to a smaller bright speck.

Usually it's difficult for the space probe to get a clean shot of the home planet because the sun obscures the view. With this picture, for the first time, the angle puts Saturn between the sun and the camera. A Saturn eclipse.

"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," said Carolyn Porco, the imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., in a statement.

The Cassini she talks about is the photographer. Launched in 1997 by the European, Italian and U.S. space agencies, it took about seven years to get into Saturn's orbit. NASA calls Cassini "the most ambitious effort in planetary space exploration ever mounted." Since it reached orbit in 2004, earthlings have enjoyed impressive, up-close shots of Saturn and its rings and moons. Scientists expect to keep it on this mission until 2017.

There are two ways to take a picture that captures the entirety of Saturn: Use a really good wide-angle lens or stand really far away.

Cassini actually did both. Even though it was 750,000 miles away from the planet, it still couldn't behold the entire thing using a wide-angle lens. So the team on the ground at NASA assembled the image from 141 smaller images.

Though the picture is naturally colored, Saturn appears black because Cassini is looking at the nighttime side of the planet. The bright ring around the edge is the sun's light scattering around the sphere, the same kind of effect you'd get during a lunar eclipse. And the vantage point is looking up, so to speak, so that we're looking at the underside of the rings.

Even though this is one of the most celebrated Saturn pics (it even made the front page of The New York Times), it's not the first awesome photo to come back from Cassini. Here's one of a storm eight times the size of earth's surface area rippling across the planet. Here's another famous picture you might find in a textbook.

We've come a long way since Galileo got the first technology-aided view of Saturn in 1609. Looking through his telescope, he wrote, "To my very great amazement, Saturn was seen to me to be not a single star, but three together, which almost touch each other." The two extra dots he saw turned out to be rings.

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