The Cassini spacecraft has provided an unprecedented look at Saturn and its rings and moons since its arrival in the planet’s orbit in 2004. The images and other data returned by Cassini and its Titan probe Huygens have revealed surprising details in Saturn’s atmospheric storms, the structure of its rings, the intricate geologic patterns on its moons and even present-day geologic activity on the moon Enceladus. “Spectacular Saturn: Images from the Cassini-Huygens Mission,” an exhibition of more than 60 views of the Saturn system ranging from sober grayscale to bright vibrant colors, opens Feb. 2.
The spectrum of colors is partially real and partially artificial and paints the Saturn system as an artistic collage. Humans perceive light in wavelengths corresponding to the visible spectrum of colors in a rainbow, but there are many other wavelengths that humans cannot see, such as radio, infrared, ultraviolet and X-rays. Saturn and its orbiting moons reflect these different wavelengths of light in different ways that yield information about the texture and composition of their surfaces. Cassini’s cameras often capture many images of the same subject, each in a different wavelength. In order to see and interpret the data as images, scientists often assign every wavelength a “false” color. These wavelengths are often rendered as shades of gray or bright reds, greens and blues, which are vividly represented in the exhibit. Scientists also use high-contrast colors and image sharpening to highlight fine details.
This exhibit is presented at the National Air and Space Museum courtesy of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $12 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
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