Hubble Sees Summertime on Saturn

Stsci_2020-43a_1024

stsci_2020-43a July 23rd, 2020

Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (NASA/GSFC)

Saturn is truly the lord of the rings in this latest snapshot from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, taken on July 4, 2020, when the opulent giant world was 839 million miles from Earth. This new Saturn image was taken during summer in the planet’s northern hemisphere.

Hubble found a number of small atmospheric storms. These are transient features that appear to come and go with each yearly Hubble observation. The banding in the northern hemisphere remains pronounced from Hubble’s 2019 observations, with several bands slightly changing color from year to year. The ringed planet’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium with traces of ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrocarbons that give it a yellowish-brown color.

Hubble photographed a slight reddish haze over the northern hemisphere in this color composite. This may be due to heating from increased sunlight, which could either change the atmospheric circulation, or perhaps remove ices from aerosols in the atmosphere. Another theory is that the increased sunlight in the summer months is changing the amounts of photochemical haze produced. “It’s amazing that even over a few years, we’re seeing seasonal changes on Saturn,” said lead investigator Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Conversely, the just now visible south pole has a blue hue, reflecting changes in Saturn’s winter hemisphere.

Hubble’s sharp view resolves the finely etched concentric ring structure. The rings are mostly made of pieces of ice, with sizes ranging from tiny grains to giant boulders. 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 4 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. However, many astronomers agree that there is no satisfactory theory that explains how rings could have formed within just the past few hundred million years.

This image is taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our solar system’s gas giant planets. In Saturn’s case, astronomers continue tracking shifting weather patterns and storms.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Provider: Space Telescope Science Institute

Image Source: https://hubblesite.org/contents/news-releases/2020/news-2020-43

Curator: STScI, Baltimore, MD, USA

Image Use Policy: http://hubblesite.org/copyright/

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Image Details

Image Type
Observation
Object Name
Saturn
Subject - Solar System
Planet > Type > Gas Giant

Distance

Stsci_2020-43a_128
 

Position Details

Position (ICRS)
RA = 20h 6m 55.6s
DEC = -20° 27’ 4.7”
Orientation
North is 125.4° CW
Field of View
1.4 x 1.4 arcminutes
Constellation
Sagittarius

Color Mapping

  Telescope Spectral Band Wavelength
Blue Hubble (WFC3/UVIS) Optical (Ca II) 395.0 nm
Green Hubble (WFC3/UVIS) Optical (O III) 502.0 nm
Red Hubble (WFC3/UVIS) Optical (O I) 631.0 nm
Spectrum_base
Blue
Green
Red
Stsci_2020-43a_1280
×
ID
2020-43a
Subject Category
A.1.1.2  
Subject Name
Saturn
Credits
NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (NASA/GSFC)
Release Date
2020-07-23T00:00:00
Lightyears
1.50e-4
Redshift
1.50e-4
Reference Url
https://hubblesite.org/contents/news-releases/2020/news-2020-43
Type
Observation
Image Quality
Good
Distance Notes
distance given in astronomical units: 9.5
Facility
Hubble, Hubble, Hubble
Instrument
WFC3/UVIS, WFC3/UVIS, WFC3/UVIS
Color Assignment
Blue, Green, Red
Band
Optical, Optical, Optical
Bandpass
Ca II, O III, O I
Central Wavelength
395, 502, 631
Start Time
Integration Time
Dataset ID
Notes
Coordinate Frame
ICRS
Equinox
2000
Reference Value
301.7316696191145, -20.45129444430481
Reference Dimension
2058, 2176
Reference Pixel
1029, 1088
Scale
-1.10055557969544e-05, 1.10055557969543e-05
Rotation
-125.43893500731
Coordinate System Projection:
TAN
Quality
Position
FITS Header
Notes
Creator (Curator)
STScI
URL
http://hubblesite.org
Name
Space Telescope Science Institute Office of Public Outreach
Email
outreach@stsci.edu
Telephone
410-338-4444
Address
3700 San Martin Drive
City
Baltimore
State/Province
MD
Postal Code
21218
Country
USA
Rights
http://hubblesite.org/copyright/
Publisher
STScI
Publisher ID
stsci
Resource ID
STSCI-H-p2043a-f-1592x1137.tif
Metadata Date
2022-07-06T00:00:00
Metadata Version
1.2
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Detailed color mapping information coming soon...

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There is no distance meta data in this image.