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spaceSpace and Physics

Hubble Reveals Latest Breathtaking Portrait Of Saturn

author

Madison Dapcevich

Staff Writer

clockSep 16 2019, 10:18 UTC

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on June 20, 2019 as the planet made its closest approach to Earth this year, at approximately 1.36 billion kilometers away. NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley

A newly unveiled image of Saturn captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the gaseous planet in all its pastel-colored glory.

Snapped on June 20, 2019, the high-resolution image was captured using the telescope’s Wide Field Camera Three as Saturn was making its closest approach to Earth this year, just 1.36 billion kilometers (845 million miles) from Earth. Saturn’s famous ring system is visible as the planet tilts towards Earth, awarding a view of the rings’ bright, icy structure and fainter inner rings made up of orbiting particles of ice and dust indicative of gas planets. Though mesmerizing, astronomers say these images are more than just “beauty shots.”

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“They reveal a planet with a turbulent, dynamic atmosphere. This year's Hubble offering, for example, shows that a large storm visible in the 2018 Hubble image in the north polar region has vanished,” said NASA in a press release. “Smaller storms pop into view like popcorn kernels popping in a microwave oven before disappearing just as quickly. Even the planet's banded structure reveals subtle changes in color.”

 
Also visible is a hexagon-shaped storm structure that has been circling the north pole of the planet for some time now. First observed in 1981, this mysterious six-sided pattern is believed to be caused by a high-speed Jetstream so large that four Earths could fit inside its boundaries – no similar structure has been spotted at planet’s south pole.

Saturn is a planet that has intrigued and fascinated space scientists from around the world since its discovery in 1655 by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens. In recent years, we have learned that one day on the planet lasts about 10.5 Earth hours and its magnetic fields make the planet’s winds flow like honey. Earlier this summer, Intricate structures were identified within Saturn’s seven rings, named A to G in the order of discovery.  

This image is one of many once unimaginable photos of the ringed planet, a list that includes mosaics compiled from images taken by the now-defunct Cassini spacecraft and others that have led to a better understanding of the location of the planet.

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Going through the archives, an image taken in 2009 with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 shows Saturn in details as small as 300 kilometers (186 miles) across its surface. Just 1.25 billion kilometers (777 million miles) from Earth at the time, the close-up shot shows the planet’s four moons transiting across the face. In the upper right side, the giant orange moon Titan – larger than the planet Mercury – is visible while the white icy moons are seen closer to Saturn. In order from left to right are Enceladus, Dione, and Mimas.

content-1568393686-2009-saturn.jpg
Quadruple Saturn moon transit snapped by Hubble on February 24, 2009. NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgment: M. Wong (STScI/UC Berkeley) and C. Go (Philippines)

More than a decade before that, an image captured on October 21, 1998, shows the ammonia ice and methane gas planet in its natural colors, highlighting the planet’s pastel bands of subtler yellows, browns, and grays. Similarly, a little black spot on the planet shows the shadow from Enceladus.

Image shows Saturn in its natural colors taken October 21, 1998. Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA/ESA)

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