Saturn's magnificent ring system is seen tilted edge-on -- for the second time this year -- in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope picture taken on August 10, 1995, when the planet was 895 million miles (1,440 million kilometers) away. Hubble snapped the image as Earth sped back across Saturn's ring plane to the sunlit side of the rings. Last May 22, Earth dipped below the ring plane, giving observers a brief look at the backlit side of the rings. Ring-plane crossing events occur approximately every 15 years. Earthbound observers won't have as good a view until the year 2038. Several of Saturn's icy moons are visible as tiny starlike objects in or near the ring plane. They are from left to right, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione and Mimas. "The Hubble data shows numerous faint satellites close to the bright rings, but it will take a couple of months to precisely identify them," according to Steve Larson (University of Arizona). During the May ring plane crossing, Hubble detected two, and possibly four, new moons orbiting Saturn. These new observations also provide a better view of the faint E ring, "to help determine the size of particles and whether they will pose a collision hazard to the Cassini spacecraft," said Larson. The picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in wide field mode. This image is a composite view, where a long exposure of the faint rings has been combined with a shorter exposure of Saturn's disk to bring out more detail. When viewed edge-on, the rings are so dim they almost disappear because they are very thin -- probably less than a mile thick.
Credit: Phil Nicholson (Cornell University) and NASA