NASA called Saturn the “lord of the rings” in its recent announcement about the new image, which was taken on July 4. At that time, the planet was 839 million miles from Earth, visible as a bright point of light with the naked eye.
The photo was taken as part of the Legacy Atmospheres Outer Planets project, which is helping scientists study the gas giants of our solar system. Astronomers are eager to track the changing weather patterns and storms on Saturn to potentially understand its evolution.
The image highlights summer in the planet’s northern hemisphere, NASA said. Not only is it impressive, but it captures important details of the planet’s changing climate.
A series of small atmospheric storms are visible, as well as the color change of the bands from year to year.
The reddish haze that can be seen in the northern hemisphere may be due to increased heat from the coming sun during the summer. Heat may be affecting circulation or ice in the atmosphere, or sunlight may be affecting the production of photochemical turbidity, NASA said.
“It is surprising that even in a few years, we are seeing seasonal changes on Saturn,” said lead researcher Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Alternatively, the barely visible blue hue that can be seen at the planet’s South Pole highlights how Saturn changes during winter.
Mimas (right) and Enceladus, two of Saturn’s 82 moons, are also clearly visible in the image. NASA has previously speculated that Enceladus, which is the point at the bottom of the image, could support life.
The planet’s famous icy rings are also visible in sharp detail.
How and when the rings were formed remains a mystery. One theory suggests that they are as old as the planet itself, just over 4 billion years old. However, the brilliance of the rings suggests that they might have formed much more recently, when dinosaurs roamed Earth.
The Hubble Space Telescope held its 30th anniversary at the beginning of this year. His successor, the powerful. James Webb Space Telescope, is slated to launch in October 2021, if the coronavirus pandemic does not delay it further.