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Although solid-looking in many images, Saturn’s rings are actually translucent. In this picture, we can glimpse the shadow of the rings on the planet through (and below) the A and C rings themselves, towards the lower right hand corner.
For centuries people have studied Saturn’s rings, but questions about the structure and composition of the rings lingered. It was only in 1857 when the physicist James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that the rings must be composed of many small particles and not solid rings around the planet, and not until the 1970s that spectroscopic evidence definitively showed that the rings are composed mostly of water ice.
This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 17 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Aug. 12, 2014 in near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers.
The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 24 degrees. Image scale is 85 miles (136 kilometers) per pixel.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 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.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Image Addition Date: 2014-12-08