'Chinese Lantern' Technique Helps Track Clouds at Saturn

false-color view of Saturn This false-color mosaic of Saturn shows deep-level clouds silhouetted against Saturn's glowing interior. Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
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October 05, 2006

A new image of Saturn demonstrates a technique that creates a 'Chinese lantern' effect, showing Saturn's deep clouds silhouetted against the planet’s warm, glowing interior. Seen this way, Saturn's interior shows surprising activity underneath the overlying haze, with a great variety of cloud shapes and sizes.

Because upper-level hazes and clouds obscure the view of these deep clouds in visible light, imaging clouds in the depths of Saturn is not practical using visible-light cameras. Several recent images obtained by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer were combined in a way that highlights the deep clouds in silhouette against the background radiation of heat generated by Saturn's interior. This literally lights the planet from the inside, like a lantern.

Clouds and hazes in Saturn's northern hemisphere are noticeably thinner than those in its southern hemisphere. This is thought to be a seasonal effect; this idea will be tested as Saturn's northern hemisphere enters springtime in the next few years.

Bright red colors indicate areas relatively free of deep-level clouds and particles, while darker red colors are cloudy regions. Images like these show Saturn's deep clouds under both daytime and nighttime conditions.

The image, produced by team members at the University of Arizona, Tucson, is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini, http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov, and http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona.

Media contacts: Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

2006-119



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