The "Bad Astronomer" has chosen his 2006 top ten astronomy photos, and many of them I agree with. The painting a partial eclipse one is especially clever. You can see all of them at this link, but check out the number one photo, which I've posted below:
the Number One Astronomy Picture of 2006 isÖ
What else could it possibly have been?
This image has it all. Itís of a familiar object, seen in an unfamiliar way: back-lit by the Sun, a view impossible from Earth. It shows the whole planet, a rarity from space missions. The image shows very faint details and has very high resolution, a must.
But there is sheer artistry at work here. The colors, the lightingÖ I love the sun splash in the lower left limb of the planet, and the fans of ethereal mistiness shooting out from the rings. The shading on the planet itself is lovely, while the rings provide a geometric symmetry that is very appealing to the eye.
All this is necessary for the image to be the best, and together they may even be sufficient. But like all true winners, it has that extra addition, the over-the-top detail that pushes it into "all-time" status:
That dot in the center of the image is the Earth. Itís us. Cassini was nearly one billion miles from us when it took this image, orbiting a giant ball of gas as exotic and alien as any place we can imagine. From such a terribly removed location, the entire Earth is reduced to a single point of light, just one among an anonymous many as seen from our robotic proxy as our generation, for the first time in all of history, seeks out our neighborhood and takes a really good look.
Thatís why this is the best astronomy image of 2006. And itís one of the best of all time.