5 min read

Cassini Top 10+ Images – 2016

Sometimes 10 is not enough. As Cassini dives deeper into its final months at Saturn, the mission science team selected 17 memorable images from the spacecraft's penultimate year in space. The team also chose the year's top science stories.

The images are presented in no particular order. Share your favorites on social media at @CassiniSaturn on Twitter and NASA Cassini on Facebook.

Saturn in the Infrared by Kevin M. Gill

Amateur Image: Saturn in the InfraredA false-color view of Saturn's clouds from Kevin M. Gill, a frequent amateur processor of space images.

Two color images showing Saturn's North Pole changing from bluish to golden over the years.

Changing Colors in Saturn's North: These two natural color images from Cassini show the changing appearance of Saturn's north polar region between 2012 and 2016.

Enceladus North Pole Montage

Enceladus North Pole Montage: This montage of images shows the precise location of the north pole on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. The snow-white surface is kept bright by material sprayed from the active plume of ice and vapor in the moon's south polar region.

Full view of Saturn and its rings.
A view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn's northern hemisphere in 2016 as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice. A year on Saturn is 29 Earth years; days only last 10:33:38, according to a new analysis of Cassini data. - Full Image and Caption ›
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Approaching Northern Summer: This view shows Saturn's northern hemisphere in 2016, as that part of the planet nears its summer solstice in May 2017.

In Daylight on the Night Side: Cassini looks down at the rings of Saturn from above the planet's nightside. The darkened globe of Saturn is seen here at lower right, along with the shadow it casts across the rings.

Flowing Dunes of Shangri-La: The Shangri-La Sand Sea on Titan is shown in this image from the Synthetic Aperture radar (SAR) on Cassini. Hundreds of sand dunes are visible as dark lines snaking across the surface. These dunes display patterns of undulation and divergence around elevated mountains (which appear bright to the radar), thereby showing the direction of wind and sand transport on the surface.

A Moon's Contrasts: Dione reveals its past via contrasts in this view. The features visible here are a mixture of tectonics -- the bright, linear features -- and impact cratering -- the round features, which are spread across the entire surface.

Hard Knock Life: Life is hard for a little moon. Epimetheus, seen here with Saturn in the background, is lumpy and misshapen, thanks in part to its size and formation process.

Y Marks the Spot: A sinuous feature snakes northward from Enceladus' south pole like a giant tentacle. This feature, which stretches from the terminator near center, toward upper left, is actually tectonic in nature, created by stresses in Enceladus' icy shell.

Ices and Shadows: Saturn's moon Tethys appears to float between two sets of rings in this view from Cassini, but it's just a trick of geometry. The rings, which are seen nearly edge-on, are the dark bands above Tethys, while their curving shadows paint the planet at the bottom of the image.

Pandemonium: Pan and moons like it have profound effects on Saturn's rings. The effects can range from clearing gaps, to creating new ringlets, to raising vertical waves that rise above and below the ring plane. All of these effects, produced by gravity, are seen in this image.

The Great Divide: It's difficult to get a sense of scale when viewing Saturn's rings, but the Cassini Division (seen here between the bright B ring and dimmer A ring) is almost as wide as the planet Mercury. The 2,980-mile-wide (4,800-kilometer-wide) division in Saturn's rings is thought to be caused by the moon Mimas. Particles within the division orbit Saturn almost exactly twice for every time that Mimas orbits, leading to a build-up of gravitational nudges from the moon. These repeated gravitational interactions sculpt the outer edge of the B ring and keep its particles from drifting into the Cassini Division.

Not Guilty: A bright disruption in Saturn's narrow F ring suggests it may have been disturbed recently. This feature was mostly likely not caused by Pandora (50 miles or 81 kilometers across) which lurks nearby, at lower right. More likely, it was created by the interaction of a small object embedded in the ring itself and material in the core of the ring. Scientists sometimes refer to these features as "jets."

Basking in Light: Sunlight truly has come to Saturn's north pole. The whole northern region is bathed in sunlight in this view from late 2016, feeble though the light may be at Saturn's distant domain in the solar system. The hexagon-shaped jet-stream is fully illuminated here. In this image, the planet appears darker in regions where the cloud deck is lower, such the region interior to the hexagon.

Criss-Crossed Rings: At first glance, Saturn's rings appear to be intersecting themselves in an impossible way. In actuality, this view from Cassini spacecraft shows the rings in front of the planet, upon which the shadow of the rings is cast. And because rings like the A ring and Cassini Division, which appear in the foreground, are not entirely opaque, the disk of Saturn and those ring shadows can be seen directly through the rings themselves.

Crash Course: It may look as though Saturn's moon Mimas is crashing through the rings in this image taken by Cassini, but Mimas is actually 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) away from the rings. There is a strong connection between the icy moon and Saturn's rings, though. Gravity links them together and shapes the way they both move.

Not Really Starless at Saturn: Saturn's main rings, along with its and moons, are much brighter than most stars. As a result, much shorter exposure times (10 milliseconds, in this case) are required to produce an image and not saturate the detectors of the imaging cameras on Cassini. A longer exposure would be required to capture the stars as well.