NASA unveils spectacular new Cassini image of Saturn

Check out this absolutely beautiful new image of the planet Saturn.

This is a mosaic of 141 wide-angle images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft back on July 19th. If you recall, that was the date that Cassini was snapping a new 'Pale Blue Dot' image, to rival the one taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft back in 1990. Well, this is, essentially, the same image, but it's been adjusted to be as close to a true-colour image as possible. Therefore, Saturn and its rings look just as they would if you were standing on the deck of a spaceship, looking out a window as you flew around the dark side of the ringed planet.

Earth and the moon are in the above image, towards the bottom right, between the narrow G ring and the wider, hazy E ring. It's hard to pick them out, though, so NASA helped, and showed that they also managed to capture Mars and Venus in the picture too!

I highly recommend that you click here to get the full effect, and check out the version that points out all the other details as well, such as the various moons, rings and other features you can see especially well in this back-lit image.

If you don't have a screen big enough to display the whole thing at once in its full glory (it's over two and a quarter metres wide), you can check out the full-sized version at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C., as of today.

Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team, talks about how the image was put together in this video:

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Cassini has been an incredible success for NASA and its partners. Sadly, the spacecraft's days may be numbered, not due to running out of fuel, being damaged or even losing staff. It could simply fall by the wayside due to budget cuts. If you live in the United States, you can join in on the Planetary Society campaign to help NASA receive more funding for these incredible missions.

The estimated cost of running Cassini for fiscal year 2014 is roughly $60 million. That may seem like a lot, but this mission not only keeps brilliant scientists and engineers employed (and contributing to the economy), but it returns incredible scientific discoveries and amazing images like the ones above to delight the public. Given that it only costs around 20 cents per person in the United States to run the mission, that seems like an awfully big return on investment.

(Images courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

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