39234 Rate this article:

IDL Used to Visualize and Analyze Saturn's Rings


Customer Challenge

Scientists at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) located at the University of Colorado, Boulder needed a method to analyze and visualize information coming from The Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph installed on board Cassini.

Solution Achieved

Cassini is a spacecraft that entered Saturn’s orbit on July 1, 1997 and began sending information and images of Saturns atmospheres, rings, and surfaces to Earth shortly after.

“We use IDL to determine where the camera is pointing and where we need to look for information in the rings,” said Joshua Colwell, a scientist on the Cassini team with LASP. “We also use IDL to model the ring plane, map the sensor data onto the ring model and then generate an accurate image representation, showing the ultraviolet color of the rings, as one would expect to see them encircling the planet.”

The Cassini mission boasts many successes in its nearly decade-long mission. “IDL has been an integral part of every phase of our work with the Cassini mission for over a decade,” said Cowell. "We used IDL in our planning for the mission, and we are now using it to retrieve data, reduce it and analyze it.” The image at the left is actually the result of multiple IDL algorithms.


  • With the help of IDL®, the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS), will measure ultraviolet light in the Saturnian system. Data from UVIS will provide information on the atmospheric composition and photochemistry of Saturn and Titan, and the nature and history of Saturn's rings.
  • IDL's rich library of algorithms and flexibility has allowed them to use it in every phase of their work for over a decade.
  • IDL's expertise in data analysis and visualization provides them with the right tool for each step of better understanding the information coming from Cassini.