Hubble's Brand New Image of Saturn

Federico Mansilla
Setiembre 13, 2019

Saturn is so attractive that astronomers can not resist using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to take yearly snapshots of the gas giant when it is at its closest distance to Earth. The image was taken on June 20 by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 as Saturn was about 845 million miles (1.36 billion kilometers) away. "However, Hubble has one advantage over space probes; it can look at these objects periodically and observe them over much longer periods than any passing probe could".

Saturn's ring system is tilted toward our planet, which gives viewers a handsome look at the illuminated, icy structure. Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens first identified the rings in 1655 and thought they were a continuous disk encircling the planet, but we now know them to be composed of orbiting particles of ice and dust.

The latest view of Saturn from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captures exquisite details of the ring system - which looks like a phonograph record with grooves that represent detailed structure within the rings - and atmospheric details that once could only be captured by spacecraft visiting the distant world. And, even more perplexingly, it's unknown what cosmic event formed the rings.

A mysterious hexagon-like structure still dominates the north polar region of the planet. The hexagon is so large that four Earths could fit inside its boundaries. A large storm in the north polar region spotted by Hubble past year has disappeared.

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Smaller, convective storms, such as the one just above the center of the planet's image, also come and go.

The ringed planet's atmosphere is also not camera-shy: Deep amber colors produced by sunlight-driven photochemical reactions appear in Hubble's portrait as well. The planet's banded structure is caused by the winds and clouds at different altitudes.

NASA routinely snaps new images of the gaseous planets in our solar system, so you can expect another updated image sometime next year.

"The second in the yearly series, this image is part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project".

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