spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy

If This Photo Of Saturn Was Actually Taken By Hubble, We Would All Soon Be Dead

If this is your view, you are most likely a ghost.

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockJun 8 2022, 12:48 UTC
Artst concept of Saturn's aurora and a tweet suggesting the Hubble telescope took the photo (it didn't)
Can you spot the problem? Image credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Schaller (for STScI)

Every now and then, an incredible space picture with a little bit of misinformation attached to it goes viral. Today's turn is a photo that supposedly shows Saturn, as captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The only small problem is that if this photo was what the caption says it is, all life on Earth would likely be wiped out before you could say "well isn't that pretty".

Take a look at the image below and if you can't figure out why, look at the position of the Sun. Got it?


OK, here's the explanation.

First off, the image is indeed issued by NASA, but it definitely was not captured by Hubble. The Hubble Space Telescope orbits 547 kilometers (340 miles) above Earth, capturing photos just as spectacular as the above view of Saturn, though generally, the best views it has captured have been of galaxies billions of light-years away

There's an easy way to tell that the above photo was not taken by the Hubble Space Telescope: If the Sun was shown behind Saturn, as it is above, that would mean it was taken from beyond the orbit of Saturn. If Hubble had taken it, that would mean Hubble and the Earth had been jettisoned to an orbit beyond the gas giant, which would make capturing views of Saturn pretty low on the priority list, way below "freezing to death in a planet-wide die-off". 

The image is actually concept art released by NASA, showing aurora hovering over Saturn's south pole.


"The aurora is red because of emission from glowing hydrogen," NASA explained in a 2005 press release. "The aurora is oval because the glowing gases trace the magnetic field lines that converge, like a narrowing funnel, onto the planet's magnetic poles."

Photos and composite images of Saturn's aurora have been captured, both by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini space probe. They are just as spectacular, with the added bonus that viewing them doesn't mean we're currently being yeeted from our orbit into temperatures that human beings will not survive.

spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy
  • tag
  • Saturn,

  • Astronomy