The Hubble Space Telescope has produced the latest portrait of Saturn, one featuring the planet and its rings in their entirety. The image was captured using the space telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 in late June, though the Hubble team only shared the final image with the public today. The portrait was taken during Saturn’s closest approach to Earth in June, showing the unique characteristics of the planet at this point in time.
Saturn is, of course, the planet best known for its very visible, well-defined rings. The planet’s rings were tilted toward Earth on June 20 when Hubble captured the portrait, offering a key opportunity for a stunning image that shows both bright, layered rings and the celestial body’s various amber hues.
According to the Hubble team, Saturn’s color is the result of ‘smog-like’ hazes resulting from photochemical reactions. Solar ultraviolet radiation drives these reactions, according to scientists, who explain that the haze covers lower levels of ammonium hydrosulphide and water clouds, as well as clouds formed from ammonia ice crystals.
Though they’re not as dramatic as the layers visible on Jupiter, Saturn has visible ‘rings’ on its surface, each distinguished by slightly different colors. Astronomers say these bands are clouds and wind that exist at different altitudes. The planet’s visible northern hemisphere was in its summer season when Hubble captured the image.
The rings surrounding Saturn, meanwhile, are made of huge quantities of dust and ice particles that are orbiting around the planet. Humanity has been aware of these rings for hundreds of years, though they won’t be around forever. Scientists have previously noted that Saturn’s rings are very slowly disappearing, though it’ll take millions of years for them to fully dissipate.