KUSA - It’s arguably the planet with the most unusual look in the solar system: Saturn and its stunning rings.
“It’s a very unique thing,” said Colin Mitchell, a member of the Boulder-based CICLOPS team, which prepares pictures of Saturn.
The newest images of Saturn are courtesy of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Launched in 1997, it reached Saturn’s orbit seven years later and it's captured stunning images of the planet and its moons ever since.
“We all get to see the images on the Internet, but I get to see how it actually happens,” said Steve Mullins of CICLOPS.
CICLOPS stands for Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations and many of those who work for it are based in Boulder. They’re in charge of taking the raw pictures captured by Cassini, cleaning them up by filtering out space dust and cosmic rays and getting them ready for the world.
“Viewers can think of it as a 'photoshop-type' of thing,” Mullins said. “We average about 30,000 images a year.”
Some of the images show Saturn’s beauty through its rings. Other pictures show a swirling mass of winds, similar to a hurricane, with Saturn’s North Pole right where the eye of the storm would be.
“Every morning I show up and look at images – I’m the first person to see them,” Mitchell said. “They’re from a billion miles away.”
The Cassini mission also included a separate lander from the European Space Agency. It was called “Huygens” and it landed on one of Saturn's moons -- Titan -- giving us up-close pictures of that moon's surface.
However, Cassini's lifespan is entering what’s called “The Grand Finale.” It is now starting to de-orbit and will crash into Saturn next year. Before then, though, it will travel between the planet and Saturn’s rings, giving us images of them never seen before.
“The highest resolution we’re ever going to see,” Mitchell said.
It’s a parting gift from a spacecraft that gave us new views of this far-away world.
(© 2016 KUSA)