It’s summertime on Saturn, and infrequently have Earthlings gotten to ascertain such a transparent view of it. The Hubble Space Telescope recently captured a replacement image of the earth, which shows its rings in stunningly clear detail.
NASA called Saturn the “lord of the rings” in its recent announcement about the new image, which was taken on Independence Day. At the time, the earth was 839 million miles from Earth — visible as just a spot of bright light with the eye.
The photo was taken as a part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy project, which helps scientists study our solar system’s gas giants. Astronomers are wanting to track shifting weather patterns and storms on Saturn so as to potentially understand its evolution.
The image highlights summertime within the planet’s hemisphere, NASA said. Not only is it stunning, but it captures important details of the planet’s shifting weather.
Visible are a variety of small atmospheric storms, also because of the bands’ changing color from year to year.
The reddish haze which will be seen over the hemisphere could also be thanks to increased heat from the sun that comes during the summer. The heat could also be affecting circulation or ice within the atmosphere, or the daylight could also be affecting the assembly of photochemical haze, NASA said.
“It’s amazing that even over a couple of years, we’re seeing seasonal changes on Saturn,” said lead investigator Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Alternatively, the blue hue which will be seen at the South Pole of the earth — just barely visible — highlights how Saturn changes during the winter.
Mimas (right) and Enceladus, two of Saturn’s 82 moons, also are clearly visible within the image. NASA has previously speculated that Enceladus, which is that the dot at rock bottom of the image, could support life.
Also visible in crisp detail are the planet’s famous icy rings.
How and when the rings formed remains a mystery. One theory suggests they’re as old because the planet itself, just over 4 billion years. However, the brightness of the rings suggests they might have formed far more recently when dinosaurs roamed the world.
The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year. Its successor, the powerful James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled to launch in October 2021, if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t delay it further.
NASA’s unmanned Cassini spacecraft, launched on October 15, 1997, was the fourth guided-missile sent to Saturn and therefore the first to enter its orbit, studying the sixth planet from the sun since 2004. The probe continued to remit stunning images also as important data right up until the top, when it made a planned descent and burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.
In this photo, a softly hued Saturn is embraced by the shadows of its rings. The gas planet’s subtle northward gradation from gold to azure may be a striking visual effect that scientists don’t fully understand. A current theory is that it may be related to seasonal influences, tied to the cold temperatures in the northern (winter) hemisphere.
Images crazy blue, green, and red spectral filters were wont to create this color view, which approximates the scene because it would seem to the human eye.