When I was little, we used to have place mats on the dinner table that had all sorts of educational bits on them. As games, we used to try and memorise as much as possible from these placemats. Ok, I realise it sounds a little bit sad, but we enjoyed it at the time!
Anyway, one of the mats was of the Solar System, and it’s where I learned about the planets and the Asteroid belts. This was our little way of exploring the Solar System in our kitchen. Of course institutions like NASA and the ESA can actually send spacecraft out to the far reaches of the Solar System, and beyond, taking some beautiful pictures along the way.
Saturn is my favourite planet, and this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft shows why. It was taken as the Sun was blocked by Saturn, leaving Cassini free from its’ glare.
It’s such a beautiful photograph, and looks almost like it has been created by an artist. The magical, mysterious view of the Dark Side of Saturn is a rare treat. Being in the shadow of Saturn, you can make out the sunset through the atmosphere of Saturn in the bright glint at its’ southern pole.
The reason we can still see the rings on the Dark Side is due to something called Saturn Shine. Light is being refracted through the layers of the Saturn atmosphere, right across the southern hemisphere, hence illuminating the rings in Saturn’s shadow.
This is composite image made up of 165 different photographs taken by the Cassini Spacecraft in September 2006. A composition of Ultra-violet, Infra-red and clear filtered images, then adjusted to give beautiful colours is what has made this picture.
But what is totally awesome about this picture is that through the rings you can see a teeny tiny bright spot. This spot is our very own home, more than a billion kilometres away.
The Earth is visible through the rings due an illusion, a trick of the light created by the vast distance between Saturn and the Earth.
In 1610, Galileo pointed his hand-made telescope to see Saturn for the first time from Earth. Almost four hundred years later, we have a telescope of our own, with increased sophistication but still built by hand, out near Saturn, looking back at Earth. Everything that we have created to make space exploration possible is situated on Earth.