Maria Montero

Hubble captures five of Saturn’s moons in one …

The Hubble telescope, while generally known for its dreamy photographs of distant worlds and its star system, has captured a striking new image of Saturn, its rings, and five of its more than 60 moons. The photograph is so sharp and clear that it appears that Saturn is floating freely through space, which is true, except that it follows an established orbit around the Sun.

The ringed planet was captured by the Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on June 20, when Saturn was at its closest to Earth, about 1.36 billion kilometers away.

But this is much more than just a picture of a beautiful planet: it is scientifically significant.

Saturn looking radiant in these sharp and impressive images captured on June 20 by the Hubble telescope. Image: NASA

The photo is part of NASA’s Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, which accumulates images of the gas giants in our solar system – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – to help study their atmospheres throughout the weather. This latest Hubble photo of Saturn is the second annual image of the planet under OPAL. From the data and images collected under the OPAL program, scientists have learned quite a bit about the outer planet.

Saturn's northern vortex closes, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft in 2016, 1.2 million kilometers away.  Image: NASA

Saturn’s northern vortex closes, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft in 2016, 1.2 million kilometers away. Image: NASA

On the one hand, that the great hexagonal storm that hit the north polar region of the planet has disappeared. Smaller storms also frequently come and go on Saturn. There are also subtle changes in the planet’s storm bands, which are largely made up of ammonia ice on top.

An annotated photo of Saturn with several of its moon, captured on June 20 by Hubble.  Image: NASA

An annotated photo of Saturn with several of its moon, captured on June 20 by Hubble. Image: NASA

NASA released an annotated and informative version of the Hubble photograph along with it, and a timelapse video of the moons in their orbits.

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