tech2 News StaffOct 24, 2019 09:02:28 IST
The Hubble telescope, while usually known for its dreamy photographs of distant worlds and star system, has captured a stunning new image of Saturn, its rings and five of its 60+ moons. The photograph is so crisp and clear, it looks like Saturn is freely floating through space — which is true except that it follows a set orbit around the Sun.
The ringed-planet was captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on 20 June, when Saturn was at its closest to Earth — some 1.36 billion km away.
But this is far more than just some pretty picture of a gorgeous planet — it's scientifically meaningful.
The photo falls under NASA's Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, which accumulates imagery of the gas giants in our solar system (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) to help study their atmospheres over time. This latest Hubble photo of Saturn is the second yearly picture of the planet under OPAL. From data and images gathered under the OPAL program, scientists have learned quite a lot about the outer planet.
For one, that the large hexagonal storm that raged in the planet's north polar region has disappeared. Smaller storms also come and go frequently on Saturn. There are also subtle changes in the planet's storm bands, which are largely composed of ammonia ice at the top.
NASA released an annotated, informational version of the Hubble photograph alongside it, and a timelapse video of the moons in their orbits.