Hubble Just Captured a Breathtaking New Image of Saturn, And It Barely Looks Real

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

New Image of Saturn
The latest view of Saturn from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captures exquisite details of the ring system — which looks like a phonograph record with grooves that represent detailed structure within the rings — and atmospheric details that once could only be captured by spacecraft visiting the distant world. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on June 20, 2019, as the planet made its closest approach to Earth, at about 845 million miles away. This image is the second in a yearly series of snapshots 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 will be able to track shifting weather patterns and other changes to identify trends. Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team

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.

Hubble Just Captured a Breathtaking New Image of Saturn, And It Barely Looks Real
This grey-scale image of Saturn’s northern polar vortex was captured by the Cassini spacecraft. This image was captured from a distance of about 1.2 million km. A portion of Saturn’s rings are barely visible in the top right. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

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.

New Image of Saturn
This composite image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on 6 June 2018, shows the ringed planet Saturn with six of its 62 known moons. It’s also an OPAL image. The image is a composite because the moons move during the Saturn exposures, and individual frames must be realigned to make a color portrait. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC) and the OPAL Team, and J. DePasquale (STScI)

NASA also released an annotated, more informational version of the Hubble image.

New Image of Saturn
An annotated version of the OPAL image, with four moons labelled and a distance marker. Image Credit: NASAESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and the OPAL Team

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.

And this:

READ MORE: It’s official: Saturn Is Losing Its Iconic Rings And They’re Disappearing Much Faster Than Expected

Hubble Just Captured a Breathtaking New Image of Saturn, And It Barely Looks Real

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