Hubble captures stunning new portrait of Saturn
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a fresh portrait of the ringed planet Saturn, while the gas giant was near the closest point to Earth in its orbit. Images taken by powerful orbital observatories – such as the newly-released portrait – represent the most detailed views of Saturn available following the termination of the Cassini mission in 2017.
The image was the second planetary portrait to be released this year as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. The portrait was captured on June 20th as the planet passed 1.36 billion km from Earth. A week later the observatory captured a similarly striking image of Jupiter, which was released to the public back in August.
Hubble has been eyeing the planets in an ongoing effort to shed light on the complex processes that sculpt the churning atmospheres of Earth’s neighbors.
The veteran telescope’s latest offering shows Saturn and its shining rings tilted towards Earth. The polar hexagonal vortex – which is the product of a powerful high-speed jet stream – is clearly visible at the north pole, while contrasting cloud bands streak across the gas giant’s surface.
Saturn’s rings can also be seen shining with reflected sunlight, complete with distinctive ring divisions. Whilst many of the gas giant’s features appear unchanged from earlier images, one blemish – a large storm that had previously been visible around the gas giant’s north polar region – has completely disappeared.
Fittingly, the image was released just three days before the second anniversary marking the end of the Cassini mission.
Cassini had spent 13 years in orbit of Saturn, unraveling the mysteries of the planet, its iconic rings, and its 62 known moons. On September 15, 2017, the spacecraft was commanded to end its odyssey by dramatically plunging beneath the gas giant’s cloud surface, thus preventing any potential contamination of the Saturnian system with microbes from Earth.
Images of worlds taken from afar allow scientists to observe planets periodically over long periods of time from a fixed perspective. This helps researchers understand long-term changes in planetary behavior that would be challenging to observe in the same way using an in-situ probe.
Scroll down to watch an animation of Saturn and its moons in motion.
Source: Hubble Space Telescope