Chasing Shadows

Flight over the rings
Flight over the rings. Click to play.

This animation, made from raw images received on June 22, brings us on a flight above Saturn’s B and A rings looking down over the 3,000-mile wide Cassini Division, following the elongated shadow of a moon cast upon – and through – the ring material.

Moon shadows disappear into thicker bands
Moon shadows disappear into thicker bands

The different densities of the ring segments are made apparent by the way the shadow appears and disappears along the width of the rings. Thicker segments absorb and scatter the shadow, while lower, thinner segments reflect hard edges.

The pale grey circular shape on the right center part of the images is something on Cassini’s CCD sensor. (I get these on my Nikon too sometimes.)

The average thickness of Saturn’s rings, made up of icy particles ranging from cigarette-smoke- to car-sized chunks, is only about 30 feet.

Raw image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI. Animation: J. Major.