The first time you see this latest picture of Saturn, you'll probably think it's fake. The rings are too perfectly round. The swirling surface of the planet is too smooth. The shadows are too sharp. But it's all real, thanks to the Cassini spacecraft and a Croatian software developer with too much time on his hands.
The image you see below is a brilliant, high definition composite of images that Cassini took when it flew by Saturn on October 10. The 36 shots amounted to 12 taken with a green filter, 12 with blue and 12 with red to approximate true color. It does better than approximate. In the days that followed, Gordan Ugarkovic, the aforementioned Croation software developer, pieced the 36 images into one massive 4000 x 3200 pixel mosaic, and since he's tinkered with space images before, Ugarkovic does a great job smoothing out the seams:
As Slate's Phil Plait points out, the extraordinary detail affords unique looks at the blue-tinged hexagonal polar vortex as well as a white band in the northern hemisphere that appears to be the remnants of a massive storm that rocked the planet last year. The rings are also profoundly well defined from the dark A ring on the outside to the faint C ring in the very middle. The B ring looks like the grooves of a tan-colored record. You can even see how light from the rings is reflected onto the planet's dark side.
Turns out 2013 has been a pretty good year for photographing Saturn. On July 19, Cassini captured this dramatic shot of Saturn and a few of its moons. (Fun fact: Saturn has at least 62 moons in total.) It almost feels like abstract art. [Discover, Slate]
Images via NASA / Gordan Ugarkovic