Assuming the observer is standing on one of Saturn's moons, with an atmosphere and angle that allows them to see Saturn and its rings in the sky, what do the rings look like during a total solar eclipse? Are they dark? Are they illuminated with the same ring that Saturn would get from the sun behind it? Or would they not change at all?

My guess would be that the rings are just as bright as usual, but because Saturn itself is dark, appear brighter to the naked eye than they actually are. They're not solid, but composed of fragments and particles, so they couldn't hide the sun the way Saturn can, so sunlight would still come through. Is that correct?


1 Answer 1


Cassini (the orbiter) has captured images of Saturn with the sun in eclipse:

enter image description here

The rings are back-lit, They self-shadow quite well but not enough to completely block sunlight, so appear bright against the black sky. The outer rings are more easily visible from this viewpoint.

You can see a larger and labelled version of the image.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ That's so far from human experience it almost doesn't look real. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 28, 2023 at 20:11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This is one of the most visually stunning images of Saturn. $\endgroup$
    – IconDaemon
    Dec 28, 2023 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ I'm caught by the weird effects where the rings cross in front of the planet near the top. $\endgroup$
    – Barmar
    Dec 29, 2023 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Barmar Note that they "cheated" a little bit here, in that the disk of the planet was masked separately so it could be shown at a much brighter exposure than the rings. Otherwise, they would have had to choose between having the planet underexposed to pure black or the rings blown out to pure white. $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2023 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ Given plasticinsect's comment, I think this answer is misleading. Per jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/slideshow/the-space-we-love, this is a mosaic of many images, and I think that they're not true-color images, but rather, composited and adjusted to resemble natural colors. $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Dec 30, 2023 at 5:40

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