Posts tagged Saturn

Posted 1 year ago

Saturn’s Moon Dione in Slight Color 
Image Credit: NASAJPLSSIESAPost Processing: Marc Canale

Explanation: Why does one half of Dione have more craters than the other? Start with the fact that Saturn's moon Dione has one side that always faces Saturn, and one side that always faces away. This is similar to Earth’s Moon. This tidal locking means that one side of Dione always leads as the moon progresses in its orbit, while the other side always trails. Dione should therefore have undergone a significant amount of impacts on its leading half. Strangely, the current leading half of Dione is lesscratered than the trailing half. A leading explanation is that some crater-forming impacts were so large they spun Dione, changing the part that suffered the highest impact rate before the moon’s spin again became locked. The above detailed image of Dione highlighting the moon’s subtle hues is a meticulously-constructed mosaic — by an dedicated amateur — of pictures taken during the April 2010 flyby of Dione by NASA’s robotic Cassini spacecraft.

Posted 2 years ago

Introducing Comet ISON 
Image Credit & Copyright: Ligustri Rolando

Explanation: Could this dim spot brighten into one of the brightest comets ever? It’s possible. Alternatively, the comet could break up when it gets closer to the Sun, or brighten much more modestlySky enthusiasts the world over are all abuzz, though, from the more optimistic speculations — that the newly discovered C/2012 S1 (ISON) could develop a spectacular tail or briefly approach the brightness of the full Moon toward the end of 2013. Comet ISON currently is very faint but is just visible at magnitude 18 in the above image. The comet, discovered just over a week ago from Russia by Vitali Nevski (Belarus) and Artyom Novichonok (Russia), is currently falling toward the Sun from between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. In early 2013 October it will pass very near Mars and possibly be visible to rovers and orbiting spacecraft. Comet ISON appears on course to achieve sungrazer status as it passes within a solar diameter of Sun’s surface in late 2013 November. Whatever survives will then pass nearest the Earth in late 2013 December. Astronomers around the world will be tracking this large dirty snowball closely to better understand its nature and how it might evolve during the next 15 months.

Posted 2 years ago

Saturn: Bright Tethys and Ancient Rings 
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging TeamSSIJPLESANASA

Explanation: How old are Saturn’s rings? No one is quite sure. One possibility is that the rings formed relatively recently in our Solar System’s history, perhaps only about 100 million years ago when a moon-sized object broke up near Saturn. Evidence for a young ring age includes a basic stability analysis for rings, and the fact that the rings are so bright and relatively unaffected by numerous small dark meteor impacts. More recent evidence, however, raises the possibility that some of Saturn’s rings may be billions of years old and so almost as old as Saturn itself. Inspection of images by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft indicates that some of Saturn’s ring particles temporarily bunch and collide, effectively recycling ring particles by bringing fresh bright ices to the surface. Seen here, Saturn’s rings were imaged in their true colors by the robotic Cassini in late October. Icy bright Tethys, a moon of Saturn likely brightened by a sandblasting rain of icefrom sister moon Enceladus, is visible in front of the darker rings.

Posted 2 years ago

Conjunction Colours 
Image Credit & CopyrightPhil Hart

Explanation: During the past week, nightfall on planet Earth has featured Mars, Saturn, and Spica in a lovely conjunction near the western horizon. Still forming the corners of a distinctive celestial triangle after sunset and recently joined by a crescent Moon, they are all about the same brightness but can exhibit different colors to the discerning eye. This ingenious star trail image was recorded as the trio set on August 12 with a telephoto lens from the shores of Lake Eppalock, in central Victoria, Australia. Focused on foreground eucalyptus trees, the image slightly blurs the trails to show more saturated colors. Can you guess which trail is which? Of course the reddest trail is Mars, with Saturn on the right a paler echo of the Red Planet’s hue. Left is hot and luminous Spica, bluish alpha star of the constellation Virgo.

Posted 2 years ago

Mars in the Loop 
Image Credit & CopyrightCenk E. Tezel, Tunç Tezel (TWAN)

Explanation: This composite of images spaced some 5 to 7 days apart from late October 2011 (top right) through early July 2012 (bottom left), traces the retrograde motion of ruddy-colored Mars through planet Earth’s night sky. To connect the dots in Mars’ retrograde loop, just slide your cursor over the picture (and check out this animation). But Mars didn’t actually reverse the direction of its orbit. Instead, the apparent backwards motion with respect to the background stars is a reflection of the motion of the Earth itself. Retrograde motioncan be seen each time Earth overtakes and laps planets orbiting farther from the Sun, the Earth moving more rapidly through its own relatively close-in orbit. On March 4th, 2012 Mars was opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky, near its closest and brightest at the center of this picture. Just arrived on the surface of the Red Planet, the Curiosity rover was launched on November 26, when Mars was near the crossover point of its retrograde loop. Of course, Mars can now be spotted close to Saturn and bright star Spica, near the western horizon after sunset.

Posted 2 years ago

South Polar Vortex Discovered on Titan
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: What’s happening over the south pole of Titan? A vortex of haze appears to be forming, although no one is sure why. The above natural-color image shows the light-colored feature. The vortex was found on images taken last month when the robotic Cassini spacecraft flew by the unusual atmosphere-shrouded moon of Saturn. Cassini was only able to see the southern vortex because its orbit around Saturn was recently boosted out of the plane where the rings and moons move. Clues as to what created the enigmatic feature are accumulating, including that Titan's air appears to be sinking in the center and rising around the edges. Winter, however, is slowly descending on the south of Titan, so that the vortex, if it survives, will be plunged into darkness over the next few years.

Posted 2 years ago

In the Shadow of Saturn’s Rings
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/J. Major

Explanation: Humanity’s robot orbiting Saturn has recorded yet another amazing view. That robot, of course, is the spacecraft Cassini, while the new amazing view includes a bright moon, thin rings, oddly broken clouds, and warped shadows. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appears above as a featureless tan as it is continually shrouded in thick clouds. The rings of Saturn are seen as a thin line because they are so flat and imaged nearly edge on. Details of Saturn’s rings are therefore best visible in the dark ring shadows seen across the giant planet’s cloud tops. Since the ring particles orbit in the same plane as Titan, they appear to skewer the foreground moon. In the upper hemisphere of Saturn, the clouds show many details, including dips in long bright bands indicating disturbances in a high altitude jet stream. Recent precise measurements of how much Titan flexes as it orbits Saturn hint that vast oceans of water might exist deep underground.

Posted 2 years ago

Lantern Saturn
Credit: VIMS Team, U. Arizona, ESA, NASA

Explanation: Known for its bright ring system and many moons, gas giant Saturn looks strange and unfamiliar in this false-color view from the Cassini spacecraft. In fact, in this Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) mosaic the famous rings are almost invisible, seen edge-on cutting across picture center. The most striking contrast in the image is along the terminator or boundary between night and day. To the right (day side) blue-green hues are visible sunlight reflected from Saturn’s cloud tops. But on the left (night side) in the absence of sunlight, the lantern-like glow of infrared radiation from the planet’s warm interior silhouettes features at Saturn’s deeper cloud levels. The infrared glow also shines from the broad shadows of Saturn’s rings sweeping across the planet’s upper hemisphere.

Posted 2 years ago

A Close Pass of Saturn’s Moon Dione
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: What’s that past Dione? When making its closest pass yet of Saturn’s moon Dione late last year, the robotic Cassini spacecraft snapped this far-ranging picture featuring Dione, Saturn’s rings, and the two small moons Epimetheus and Prometheus. The above image captures part of the heavily cratered snow-white surface of the 1,100 kilometer wide Dione, the thinness of Saturn’s rings, and the comparative darkness of the smaller moon Epimetheus. The image was taken when Cassini was only about 100,000 kilometers from the large icy moon. Future events in Cassini’s continuing exploration of Saturn and its moons include tomorrow’s flyby of Titan and imaging the distant Earth passing behind Saturn in June.

Posted 2 years ago

All the Water on Planet Earth
Illustration Credit & Copyright: Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Howard Perlman, USGS

Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The above illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth's surface remain topics of research.