Cassini Snapped New Photo Rings of Saturn

In new photo, snapped by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on January 5, 2012, rings of Saturn cast shadows on the huge planet.

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is visible just below the rings, in the upper right of the picture. Just above the rings sits the tiny moon Prometheus, barely visible as a tiny white speck. At 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers) in diameter, Titan is nearly 50 percent wider than Earth’s moon. The only moon in our solar system larger than Titan is Ganymede, which orbits Jupiter. Titan has a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere that shrouds the frigid body in a soupy brown haze. Complex organic molecules swirl about in this atmosphere. The huge moon also has a hydrocarbon-based weather system, with methane rain falling from the sky and pooling in liquid-methane lakes. Astronomers believe that Titan may be one of the best places in the solar system to search for extraterrestrial life. Prometheus is an entirely different body altogether, an irregularly shaped, elongated moon just 53 miles (86 kilometers) across. Scientists think Prometheus is a porous, icy object, but they don’t know much about it. Cassini’s wide-angle camera snapped the photo while the probe was about 425,000 miles (685,000 km) from Saturn. According to researchers the image scale is 23 miles (37 km) per pixel on Saturn. Cassini launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. It has been studying the ringed planet and its many moons ever since, and will continue to do so for years to come. Last year, NASA extended the probe’s mission to at least 2017.