Nasa Shares Rare View Of Saturn's Rings

Nasa's Cassini spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Saturn for more than eight years, has delivered a rare backlit view of the planet and its rings.

The image was taken during Cassini's 174th orbit around the gas giant when it was deliberately positioned within Saturn's shadow.

The US space agency said on its website: "It was the perfect location from which to look in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet.

"Looking back towards the sun is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as "high solar phase"; near the centre of your target's shadow is the highest phase possible.

"This is a very scientifically advantageous and coveted viewing position, as it can reveal details about both the rings and atmosphere that cannot be seen in lower solar phase."

The mosaic picture is composed of 60 images taken in violet, visible and near-infrared colours.

Saturn's moons Enceladus and Tethys appear on the left side of the planet, below the rings.

Carolyn Porco, head of Cassini's imaging team at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said: "Of all the many glorious images we have received from Saturn, none are more strikingly unusual than those taken from Saturn's shadow.

"They unveil a rare splendour seldom seen anywhere else in our solar system."

The last time Cassini had such an unusual perspective on Saturn and its rings was in September 2006, when it captured a mosaic, called In Saturn's Shadow which is one of the most popular Cassini images

Nasa said: "The mosaic being released today by the mission and the imaging team, in celebration of the 2012 holiday season, does not contain Earth; along with the sun, our planet is hidden behind Saturn.

"However, it was taken when Cassini was closer to Saturn and therefore shows more detail in the rings than the one taken in 2006."

The new processed mosaic can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.