Saturn with Rings
photo by Chuck Casky

The planet Saturn is about the same size as Jupiter, but is located approximately twice as far away from the Sun.  Thus, compared to Jupiter, Saturn is illuminated by sunlight that has only about 1/4 the intensity.  Because Saturn is twice as far from the Earth as Jupiter, it presents a much smaller image in a telescope.   It is much more difficult to successfully photograph an object that is both fainter and smaller.  When the rings of Saturn are highly inclined to the line of sight, as they were when the photograph above was taken, the rings reflect approximately the same amount of light as the ball of the planet.   Consequently, Saturn is seen from the Earth to be twice as bright in the sky when the rings are highly tilted than when the rings are seen nearly edge-on.  Note, in the image above, the gap between the planet and the rings can be clearly observed.