Yes, I said hexagon. If you haven’t heard, our solar system’s second-largest planet has another curious feature besides its sprawling rings; it’s also in possession of an uncannily geometric six-sided jet stream encircling its north pole — at the heart of which lies a churning hurricane-like vortex over 1,800 miles wide. This hexagon has been known about since the days of Voyager, and now NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has presented us with the highest-resolution look yet at this odd atmospheric phenomenon.
It’s a labor of love: using hundreds of thousands of real images taken by NASA’s Cassini, Galileo, Voyager, and other space exploration missions to create a stunning feature-length, high-definition IMAX movie that showcases the beauty of our Solar System on the big screen like never before. This is the achievement of “In Saturn’s Rings,” a project by filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren that’s been years in the making and, based on this latest teaser trailer, beautifully executed.
The footage is made entirely from real photographs using Ken Burns-style photoanimation and multiplane photoanimation. No computer-generated images, painting, cloning, tweening, morphing, texture maps, camera projection or 3D models were used… even the “stargate” titles are made using photos – an 8,000-photo mosaic of all-sky zoomed really fast gives the blurred appearance. And, according to van Vuuren, “a computer is actually not even required to do this – it could all be done exactly using photoanimation techniques from 100 years ago.”
(Of course 100 years ago, touring Saturn with a nuclear-powered spacecraft was only a distant sci-fi dream!)
Learn more about the non-profit In Saturn’s Rings film project on the official website here, and help get the ‘real’ orchestral score recorded (Adagio for Strings by the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra) by donating to the Kickstarter campaign here.
“A film is – or should be – more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings.”
– Stanley Kubrick
In theaters summer 2014.
Go get some extra socks handy because this new image of Saturn is going to knock ‘em clean off your feet.
Seen in eclipse against the light of the Sun, Saturn and its rings seem to glow with a magical light in this picture, painstakingly assembled from 141 separate wide-angle images taken by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. The view is over 400,000 miles wide and Cassini was on the night side of Saturn, almost a billion miles away.
And you know what’s even cooler? You’re in this image. We all are, in fact.
A combination of exceptionally clear weather, the steady approach of northern summer, and a poleward orbital path has given Cassini — and Cassini scientists — unprecedented views of countless lakes scattered across Titan’s north polar region. In the near-infrared mosaic above they can be seen as dark splotches and speckles scattered around the moon’s north pole. Previously observed mainly via radar, these are the best visual and infrared wavelength images ever obtained of Titan’s northern “land o’ lakes!”
(But don’t even think about going swimming in these lakes — they’re filled with liquid METHANE, nearly 300 degrees below zero!)
…not without a spaceship, anyway. But Cassini can — and did — on October 10, 2013 (mostly because it IS a spaceship) and thanks to the image-editing skills of Gordan Ugarkovic you too can enjoy the incredible view!
Saturn might look like a placid beige ball in backyard telescopes but in reality it has very dynamic weather patterns and climates, rivaling the storms of Jupiter and the varied climates of Earth, based on long-term microwave observations by the Cassini spacecraft.
(Yes, microwaves are good for much more than heating up your coffee.)
What looks like a single open-quote (or backwards comma) is really Saturn’s two-toned moon Iapetus, seen here in RGB composite color made from raw images acquired by Cassini on Aug. 30 from a distance of about 1.5 million miles.
With a leading side stained a dark reddish hue and a trailing side bright white, the 914-mile-wide Iapetus (eye-AH-peh-tus) is — almost literally — the yin-yang of Saturn’s family of moons.
The color variation on Iapetus is due to the fine coating of dark material that falls onto its leading hemisphere, possibly sent its way by smaller, distant Phoebe. This dark coating of dust causes that half of Iapetus’ surface to warm up ever-so-slightly-more than the other, making the water ice evaporate and redepositing it on the other side. This in turn just reinforces the whole cycle…a positive feedback loop.
Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Composite by Jason Major.