21/12/2012 06:43 GMT | Updated 20/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Nasa Cassini Spacecraft Issues Yet Another Amazing Image Of Saturn (PICTURES)

Nasa has already released some pretty amazing pictures of Saturn this week - but now they've done it again.

Last time it was something simple and beautiful - a 'backlit' shot of the planet taken by the Cassini spacecraft.

This time it's a bit more useful - and psychedelic.

The colourful picture (see below) was also taken by the Cassini craft, but instead of a normal photo it's actually a representation of the heat emitted from the interior of Saturn. It's a false-colour image, made using Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer.

Nasa is using the image to illustrate the instrument from which an even more exciting picture will be taken later on Friday - even though it won't feature Saturn at all: the transit of Venus, from Saturn.


Nasa said that the colourful image took seven years of experiments by the mini-fridge-sized instrument, and that among its investigations were the weather patterns swirling around the gas-giant's surface, the make-up of its rocky moon Titan, the aerosol layers of Titan's hazey surface and the dirt trapped in the ice of Saturn's rings.

On Friday the instrument will be turned to the Sun, where it will watch Venus pass across the face of our star:


The transit of Venus was observed from Earth earlier this year. But Cassini's observation will be the first time a spacecraft has tracked a transit of a planet in our Solar System outside of the Earth's orbit.

The point is to test the instrument's ability to observe planets outside our Solar System.

"Interest in infrared investigations of extrasolar planets has exploded in the years since Cassini launched, so we had no idea at the time that we'd ask VIMS to learn this new kind of trick," said Phil Nicholson, the VIMS team member based at Cornell University.

"But VIMS has worked so well at Saturn so far that we can start thinking about other things it can do."

The experiment, if successful, could breathe new life into the Cassini mission, which launched in 1997 and has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.