NASA recently released a new image of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft last month, on June 9 to be exact. Looking closely at it, one can see something peculiar about this image. Mainly, two of the planet’s rings appear warped as they get nearer to the planet’s body.
However, the warping is just an optical illusion, nothing physical is causing it. As explained by some of NASA’s experts, the ringed planet’s atmosphere acts like a big lens, causing Saturn’s A and F rings to appear bent.
This is not the first time that Saturn’s atmosphere caused distortion of some kind in its images. When looking at some of the planet’s photographs, not one star can be seen. This is because our cameras are not capable of capturing both the stars and the rings because they are saturated with too much light. When the cameras resort to shorter exposure times to capture the rings, the stars are not picked up by the camera.
This also means that the upper portion of the Saturn’s atmosphere is bombarded with a lot of light. Some gets absorbed while some passed through and gets refracted as it travels through the atmosphere. This results to the warped image of Saturn’s rings, even if they are actually straight and flat.
The on-board camera of Cassini captured the image from a distance of more than 1.8 million kilometers (1.1 million miles). What’s cool is that each pixel in the original image is 11 kilometers (7 miles). That would have required a huge amount of space. Fortunately, for us, if it was not scaled down for our viewing pleasure.