This rare view of Saturn is among the most awe-inspiring images of the planet we've ever seen

Stop what you're doing and look at this. Banded, backlit and beautiful, this verdant view of Saturn — just released by CICLOPS — is one of the most remarkable images of the planet ever captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. And trust us, that's saying something.

Writes Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and Director, in her just-updated Captain's Log:

The mosaic we are releasing today does not contain Earth: Along with the sun, our planet is hidden behind Saturn. However, it was taken when Cassini was closer to Saturn and therefore shows more detail in the rings than the one from six years ago. It also is displayed as it truly is, in false-color ... leaving a rather eerie and surreal impression on the viewer.

Of all the many glorious images we have received from Saturn, none are more strikingly unusual than those we have taken from Saturn's shadow. They unveil a rare splendor seldom seen anywhere else in our solar system.

This one is our special gift to you, the people of the world, in this holiday season that brings to a close the year 2012. We fervently hope it serves as a reminder that we humans, though troubled and warlike, are also the dreamers, thinkers, and explorers inhabiting one achingly beautiful planet, yearning for the sublime, and capable of the magnificent. We hope it reminds you to protect our planet with all your might and cherish the life it so naturally sustains.

From all of us on Cassini, the happiest of holidays to everyone.

Absolutely remarkable. Bear in mind: views like this are only possible while the Sun is positioned behind Saturn, relative to Cassini's position. "The last time Cassini captured a view like this was in Sept. 2006," explains the Cassini imaging team, "when it captured a mosaic processed to look like natural color, entitled In Saturn's Shadow-The Pale Blue Dot":


"In that mosaic," the Cassini team notes, "planet Earth put in a special appearance, making 'In Saturn's Shadow' one of the most popular Cassini images to date." As Porco noted in her Captain's Log, Earth is hidden from view in the this, the latest backlit view of the ringed planet; but we suspect the image's unprecedented detail and eerie, otherworldly hues will make it every bit as popular, in the long run, as its predecessor.

Read more about the image over at CICLOPS, where you'll also find links to hi-res versions of the image.

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