The Saturn image shows in crisp detail the concentric rings that give the gas giant its iconic look. The latest snapshot from Hubble was taken on July 4 when Saturn was about 839 million miles from Earth. NASA said: “The new Saturn image was taken during summer in the planet’s northern hemisphere.”
Much like Earth, Saturn has a tilted axis which means it also has seasons.
You can also see in the image Saturn’s moons Mimas and Enceladus – on the right and the bottom respectively.
The photo was taken as part of a mission to study the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our system’s gas giants.
In this case, the mission, dubbed OPAL or Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy is tracking shifting weather patterns in the planet’s atmosphere.
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NASA’s Hubble has found a number of small atmospheric storms.
These features appear to come and go each year when Hubble makes its yearly observations.
NASA said: “The banding in the northern hemisphere remains pronounced as seen in Hubble’s 2019 observations, with several bands slightly changing colour from year to year.
“The ringed planet’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium with traces of ammonia, methane, water vapour, and hydrocarbons that give it a yellowish-brown colour.”
We’re seeing seasonal changes on Saturn
Amy Simon, NASA
You can also see a reddish cast over the planet’s northern hemisphere.
The red tint might be caused by heating due to increased exposure to sunlight.
The heating could, in turn, change the planet’s atmospheric circulation or remove ice aerosols from the atmosphere.
Another theory suggests increased sunlight in the summer changes the amounts of phytochemicals produced.
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At the same time, Saturn’s barely visible south pole has a blue hue.
Lead investigator Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said: “It’s amazing that even over a few years, we’re seeing seasonal changes on Saturn.”
The rings that orbit Saturn are quite deceptive as they are as little as 330ft (100m) thick.
The rings are mostly made up of chunk of ice that range in size from grains to boulders.
Saturn boasts seven large rings made up of thousands of smaller ringlets, with clear gaps in between them.
NASA said: “Just how and when the rings formed remains one of our solar system’s biggest mysteries. Conventional wisdom is that they are as old as the planet, over four billion years.
“But because the rings are so bright – like freshly fallen snow – a competing theory is that they may have formed during the age of the dinosaurs.”
But Saturn is not the only planet with rings – Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus do as well.
However, the other planets pale in comparison to Saturn.
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