NASA has released a breathtaking photo showing the intricate lines in Saturn’s rings, as photographed by a spacecraft in orbit.
The image, which was taken by the Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 24, shows that Saturn’s rings are actually made up of smaller ringlets that blur together when seen at a distance. The rings in the photo almost look like paint chip samples from a hardware store, with black, white and many subtle shades of grey across the “surface” of the rings.
The photo has also sparked debate among scientists over whether the rings have always exhibited the same pattern, or whether they evolved over time.
NASA says the image was taken approximately 456,000 kilometres from the planet itself, looking toward the sunlit side of Saturn. In terms of scale, one pixel in the original photo is 27 kilometres.
Earlier photos taken by Cassini show alternate angles of the planet and its magnificent rings, in daylight and in shadow.
Cassini launched in 1997 on a mission to examine Saturn and its many moons. The spacecraft originally arrived at Saturn with a lander, called the Huygens, which it deployed onto the surface of the largest moon, Titan, in late 2004.
NASA extended the spacecraft’s mission twice after it completed its initial four-year mission. Cassini is now nearing the end of a mission called the Grand Finale, which will wrap up with the spacecraft crashing into Saturn.