(NASA) – On June 20, Saturn made its closest approach to Earth and the Hubble Space Telescope was ready to capture the view.
Saturn was 845,064,821 miles from Earth and tilted towards our planet, showcasing its beautiful rings in detail. Even the more faint inner rings were visible. Previously, we could only see views like this if a spacecraft visited the planet.
The hexagon-shaped feature around Saturn’s north pole was first spotted by NASA’s Voyager 1 in 1981. This feature is captured in the new Hubble image. The mysterious structure has no twin at Saturn’s south pole. Instead, the pattern is due to the planet’s high-speed jet stream, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The hexagon is larger than it looks. Four Earths could fit inside it.
But the appearance of Saturn varies from time to time. Some features come and go, such as a large storm by the north pole spotted by Hubble last year. This year, it has disappeared. However, a super “thunderhead,” as astronomers call them, is visible in the center of the planet.
Just like Earth, Saturn experiences seasons. Hubble spotted Saturn during its summer season. The planet’s vivid amber color is due to a smog-like haze occurring during its summer where solar ultraviolet radiation creates reactions in the atmosphere.
Additionally, much like on Jupiter, the colorful bands are due to differently composed clouds driven by winds to stack at different levels.
However, the seasons last a little longer here. Saturn’s seasons can last over seven years.
Each year, the Hubble Space Telescope spends some time looking at the outer planets of our solar system.
Hubble participates in the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program, and the images the telescope takes of the outer planets help scientists study the giant planets and their atmospheres. In turn, this enables them to learn more about Earth’s atmosphere, as well as those that may exist on exoplanets, those outside our solar system.