Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time Magazine's 'Year in Pictures'

A stunning view of Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made Time Magazine's 2009 "Year in Pictures."

The photo, released in September and dubbed "The Rite of Spring," was the first up close view from a spacecraft from Earth of Saturn's equinox, when the sun's disk is directly overhead at Saturn's equator. That sun angle illuminates the gas giant's famous rings edge-on, opening up a new perspective.

As Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco tells Time, "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 spectacle occurs twice during each orbit Saturn makes around the sun, which takes approximately 10,759 Earth days, or about 29.7 Earth years. Earth experiences a similar equinox phenomenon twice a year; the autumnal equinox will occur Sept. 22, when the sun will shine directly over Earth's equator.

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