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Sunrise on Saturn: Cassini spies dawn on an alien planet

The shifting of Saturn's short days is on display in a NASA image of sunrise on the ringed planet, one of many dazzling portraits captured by the Cassini spacecraft.

Saturn sunrise
The dawn of a new day on Saturn. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been documenting the strange and wonderful world of Saturn and its environs for over a decade. Its human team back here on Earth recently released yet another lovely image from Cassini's collection. This particular picture shows sunrise on Saturn.

Day and night moves at a much faster clip on Saturn than it does on our blue marble. NASA estimates that the rotation period takes 10 hours and 40 minutes, which would really mess with your Earth-based sleep cycle if you tried to live on Saturn.

Cassini took the near-infrared image with a wide-angle camera in August 2014. The spacecraft was located about 1.1 million miles away from Saturn at the time the image was captured. Saturn's interesting stripe pattern comes from powerful winds creating bands of clouds. The clouds visible in the upper layers of the planet's atmosphere are made from ammonia ice, not the sort of friendly, fluffy clouds we have on Earth. Saturn's winds can top 1,100 mph.

Saturn has made quite a bit of science news over the past year. Another Cassini image shows what may be the beginning of a new moon as an icy disturbance was spotted forming in the planet's outer ring. The spacecraft also helped NASA put together a mosaic image of Saturn's captivating moon Titan showing sunlight glinting off hydrocarbon seas near its north pole.

Though it launched way back in 1997, Cassini doesn't seem to be slowing down, giving us plenty more fascinating images of Saturn and its moon buddies to look forward to.