Hubble Snaps New Image of Saturn and Its Ring System | Astronomy

Saturn and Its Rings Look Truly Spectacular in This Hubble Telescope Portrait

Saturn and Its Rings Look Truly Spectacular in This Hubble Telescope Portrait

Amateur astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere may be able to now see Saturn, but NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken a series of images of the ringed planet that give new details about its rings, as well as its ever-changing weather.

The Hubble Space Telescope launched in 1990 and is one of the most prolific space observatories of all time. Hubble's high-resolution images of our planetary neighbours can only be surpassed by pictures taken from spacecraft that actually visit these bodies. "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 hosts many recognizable features, most notably its trademark ring system, which is now tilted towards Earth", NASA/ESA officials wrote in the image description. "This gives us a magnificent view of its bright icy structure", ESA said.

But the focus of NASA's new Hubble portrait is the planet's atmosphere and not the other-worldly rings.

The rings of Saturn can be an awesome sight through a telescope, and when you've got the most iconic space telescope at your disposal, the view is absolutely jaw-dropping. Hubble isn't just snapping a beauty shot though: The portrait reveals Saturn's dynamic, turbulent atmosphere, including the "hexagon", a weird six-sided pattern discovered by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1981 that is still present on Saturn's north pole, while the planet's iconic rings, which look like a phonograph record with grooves, remain stunning in space. And, even more perplexingly, it's unknown what cosmic event formed the rings.

The structure is believed to be caused by the presence of a high-speed jet stream and was first observed in 1981 by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft. The hexagon is so large that four Earths could fit inside its boundaries.

Other features, however, are not as long-lasting.

The large storm visible at Saturn's north pole in 2018's close-up has vanished without a trace.

Smaller storms are dotted across the planet's surface, while its bands have also subtly changed their hue.

Saturn's amber colors come from summer smog-like hazes, produced in photochemical reactions driven by solar ultraviolet radiation.

The planet's banded structure is caused by winds and clouds at different altitudes.

Saturn's appearance changes with its seasons, caused by the planet's 27-degree axial tilt. Hubble also snapped the fainter inner rings and numerous ringlets of the planet in the clear image.

It's the second in a series of annual photos for the Outer Planets Legacy project by scientists studying the gas giant planets of our solar system.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of global cooperation between ESA and NASA.

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