I’ve seen many pictures of Saturn, some crisp and clear, some blurry, some big, some small. I think I have the authority to tell you that this new image from Hubble is an especially good one.
Saturn attracts a lot of attention, what with its rings, its hexagon, its large size, and its moons, some of which might even have the conditions for life. I don’t really have any reasons or science to back up why this one is good. But when I saw this one, I thought, “Wow.... that’s a nice picture of Saturn.” I would say it’s even better than last year’s.
Hubble takes images of Saturn every year when the Earth is at its closest to the gas giant, or about 1.36 billion kilometres (845 million miles) away. This year, that occurred on June 20. Scientists are specifically interested in the planet’s weather and how it evolves over time. Hubble can take these impressive images because it’s able to keep itself pointed at the planet for a relatively long period of time (compared to the window for imaging that a passing space probe would have, for example), according to a Hubble release.
Two years ago now, scientists ended the Cassini mission that was studying the ringed planet – specifically, they crashed the probe into Saturn’s atmosphere. But researchers have been able to glean lots of insights from the data the spacecraft returned. For example, Saturn’s rings might be only 100 million years old and might only last for another 100 million years. The rings also might be raining thousands of kilograms of matter onto the planet’s surface every second. They’ve also learned that Saturn’s enormous hexagon (which by itself could fit four Earths end-to-end) might be a lot taller than expected.
It’s an awesome planet, and we’re lucky that this year we got an especially good look at it.
Featured image: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley