No, I’m not obsessed with Saturn. OK, I am obsessed with Saturn. But so is Time, who picked this deliciously crispy photo as one of the images of the year, revealing ring bumps as high as the Rocky Mountains.
I’m not surprised, because it’s a truly unique moment, one that happens at Saturn’s equinox, which is an event that only happens twice in 10,179 Earth days. And this time, we had Cassini there to take this amazing photo, just when the sun illuminates the rings edge-on. As Carolyn Porco—Cassini imaging team leader—puts it:
The geometry revealed structures and phenomena in the rings we had never seen before. We saw this famous adornment spring from two dimensions into three, with some ring structures soaring as high as the Rocky Mountains. It made me feel blessed.
The team used Cassini during a week to take photos of vertical clumps in the ring, and when the equinox happened, they could measure their true size looking at the shadows. According to NASA’s Bob Pappalardo at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
It’s like putting on 3-D glasses and seeing the third dimension for the first time. This is among the most important events Cassini has shown us.
Well, Bob and Carolyn, Carolyn and Bob and the rest of the Cassini team, all I can say is thank you for an amazing work, and the stunning desktop backgrounds in 2009. [NASA Full Resolution Image]