Even when viewed through a typical amateur telescope, Saturn’s rings offer a jaw-dropping spectacle that always satisfies. But looked at through the eyes of NASA’s now-departed Cassini spacecraft, the view is unlike anything else in the solar system, a stunning tapestry of mind-boggling complexity. This image, taken on 22 August, 2009, by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera at a distance of 2 million kilometres (1.27 million miles) employed red, green and blue filters to produce a natural colour view. The rings are made up mostly of water ice, with particles as small as grains of sand and as large as mountains. The precise nature of the icy material that gives the rings their colour remains a topic of debate.
Skywatchers in the UK looking to the south-southeast shortly before midnight on Friday 9 June can see the rising full Moon just 2½ degrees above Saturn, the pair fitting comfortably in the same field of view of binoculars and telescopes magnifying less than 20×. Saturn is closest to the Earth for this year on 15 June, so here is our quick observing guide to the ringed planet at its best.
Saturn’s beautiful rings form a striking feature, cutting across this image of two of the planet’s most intriguing moons: Titan (diameter, 3,200 miles) and Enceladus (313 miles). The rings have been a source of mystery since their discovery in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, but there is not full agreement on how they formed.