One year since last sighting Saturn, and less than eight months before
reaching the planet, the cameras on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have
caught another glimpse of the ringed planet, growing more detailed
with time.

A natural color composite of the image is available from the Cassini
Imaging Team’s website at and from NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., at

The planet was 111 million kilometers (69 million miles) from the
spacecraft when the images were taken last week, about the equivalent
of three-fourths of the distance between Earth and the Sun. The image
shows details in the rings and atmosphere not seen a year ago, as well
as five of Saturn’s icy moons.

“After more than a decade of preparation and waiting for arrival, it
is satisfying to see the Saturnian moons in this approach picture,”
said Dr. Gerhard Neukum, an imaging team member and a professor at
Free University in Berlin, Germany. “Soon we will be in orbit around
Saturn to investigate these worlds in detail and to decipher their
geologic history from close-up images – an exciting prospect.”

Dr. Anthony DelGenio, imaging team member from NASA Goddard Institute
for Space Studies in New York City and a specialist in atmospheric
studies, said, “We can only see the general banded structure of Saturn
from this distance, but we know that as we get closer those bands will
break up before our eyes into smaller features – spots, storms, wave
patterns that we’ll be able to see in 10 times more detail than any
previous observation of Saturn.

“I can’t wait to dive in as we see it all unfold over the next few
months. For all of us who have worked for more than a decade
preparing for this mission, seeing Saturn grow larger and larger in
the eyes of the Cassini cameras is a bit like the feelings children
have as they come downstairs on Christmas morning to see what gifts
are waiting for them under the tree,” DelGenio said. “But this
Christmas will last for four years.”

Dr. Carolyn Porco, a planetary ring specialist and leader of the
Imaging Science team, said, “For someone who was involved in the
Voyager exploration of Saturn twenty-three years ago, this is
turning out to be a very sentimental journey. I’m reminded of
what it felt like to see Saturn’s rings for the first time with
Voyager, and how rich and surprising they were. The spokes in the
B ring, the twisted F ring and its shepherding moons, the sheer
number and diversity of ring features…. we’ll be on the lookout
for all these things and more over the next few months”.

Dr. Wesley Huntress, former Cassini Study Scientist in the
mid-1980s, Director of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Division
in 1990 at the inception of the Cassini mission, and presently
the Director of Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical
Laboratory, said of the latest image, “Wow! So far away, so long
to travel, so much effort to make it happen, and so worth it”.

Fourteen camera-team scientists from the United States and Europe
will use the two cameras on Cassini to investigate many features
of Saturn, its moons and its rings. Cassini will begin a four-year
prime mission in orbit around Saturn when it arrives on July 1,
2004. It will release its piggybacked Huygens probe about six
months later for descent through the thick atmosphere of the moon
Titan. The probe could impact in what may be a liquid methane

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative mission of NASA,
the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
manages the mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science,
Washington, D.C.

The Space Science Institute, home to the Cassini Imaging Central
Laboratory for Operations, is a non-profit organization of
scientists and educators engaged in research in the areas of
astrophysics, planetary science and the earth sciences, and in
integrating research with education and public outreach.

Mission information is available online at .