See The Stunning New Photo Of Saturn’s Rings Just Sent Back By The Hubble Space Telescope

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has sent back a brand-new image of giant gas planet Saturn and its incredible ring pattern.

The new image, above, was take it on September 22, 2022, but only released today. A composite of separate exposures acquired by the 43 years old space telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, the image shows two smudges in the on the left side of the image in the planet’s “B ring.”

Saturn has several rings, with “B ring” being the largest and brightest. The smudges imaged by Hubble are called “spokes,” mysterious clumps of dust particles though to be created by electrical disturbances—possibly caused by Saturn’s magnetic field interacting with the solar wind from the Sun. Spokes can appear light or dark depending on the viewing angle.

The ring spokes were first observed by NASA’s Voyager mission in the early 1980s and more are expected to appear as Saturn draws closer to its autumnal equinox on May 6, 2025.

Since Saturn takes 29 Earth-years to orbit the Sun a new season begins every seven (or so) Earth-years. Its last equinox, in August 2009, was observed by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, as shown in this stunning image:

Saturn has the most extensive ring system of any planet in the solar system, but it’s only one of seven bodies that have rings. Just yesterday scientists revealed that they had found rings around around Quaoar (pronounced “kwar-waar”), a small body in the solar system about half the size of Pluto. In January the James Webb Space Telescope imaged rings around Chariklo, a similarly small body.

The new image of Saturn is part of the annual Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program. OPAL is a project to understand atmospheric dynamics and evolution of the outer gas giant planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

“Thanks to Hubble’s OPAL program, which is building an archive of data on the outer solar system planets, we will have longer dedicated time to study Saturn’s spokes this season than ever before,” said Amy Simon, NASA senior planetary scientist and head of OPAL.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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