PASADENA, Calif., Nov. 12 -- The Cassini imaging team has released a color composite image of Saturn and its moon, Titan, 20 months before the spacecraft arrives at the planet.
The image shows the shadow of the planet falling across its famous rings. The planet was 285 million kilometers (177 million miles) from the spacecraft when the images were taken last week, nearly twice the distance between Earth and the Sun. The spacecraft has now crossed more than half the distance to Saturn from Jupiter, its last rendezvous.
"Cassini has sighted the ringed planet looking distant, mysterious and serene," said Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and leader of the science team using the Cassini camera.
Cassini camera-team member Alfred McEwen at the University of Arizona, Tucson, added, "Seeing the picture makes our science-planning work suddenly seem more real. Now we can see Saturn and we'll watch it get bigger as a visual cue that we're approaching fast. It's good to see the camera is working well."
Cassini-Huygens is a cooperative mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.
The 14-member NASA-selected imaging science team will use the camera to investigate many features of Saturn, its moons and its rings. Cassini will begin a four-year prime mission in orbit around Saturn when it arrives on July 1, 2004. It will release a piggybacked probe, Huygens, to descend through the thick atmosphere of Titan on Jan. 14, 2005.
For more information, visit: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov