The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a new image of Saturn that makes you wonder if it’s even real. The image is so clear that it appears as if Saturn is floating in space. Which it is.
This image of Saturn was taken on June 20th, 2019, when the Planet was at its closest to Earth – some 1.36 billion kilometers (845 million miles) away. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 captured a clear image (WFC3.)
This is a beautiful image that would look great on a gallery wall. (As long as it was curated by a space nerd.) But it’s not just pretty: it’s also scientific.
The image is from the program Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL.) OPAL’s mission is to collect long-baseline imagery of our Solar System’s gas giant planets in order to better understand their atmospheres over time. This is Saturn’s second annual image as part of the OPAL program.
Here’s Hubble’s Newest Image of Saturn
Saturn always appears calm. Even stately. But a closer look reveals a lot going on. We usually associate storms and gas giants with Jupiter, which has prominent horizontal storm bands and, of course, the Great Red Spot. But Saturn is also a very active and stormy planet.
Thanks to the OPAL program, we know that a large hexagonal storm in the planet’s north polar region has disappeared. And smaller storms come and go frequently. Smaller storms come and go all the time. The planet’s storm bands, which are mostly ammonia ice at the top, are also changing subtly.
However, some features have persisted.
Cassini discovered the hexagonal storm at Saturn’s north pole, and it is still present. In fact, that feature was discovered by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1981.
But, for the most part, this new Hubble image of Saturn is simply stunning. Even if you didn’t know anything about Saturn, its beauty would attract you.
NASA also released an annotated, more informational version of the Hubble image.
A time-lapse video of Hubble images of Saturn was also released by NASA. It shows the moons, or at least a selection of Saturn’s 60+ moons, as they orbit the gas giant. It is composed of 33 individual images taken on June 19th and 20th, 2019.