An incredible 1,200-mile-wide vortex of spiraling clouds swirling above Saturn’s north pole is seen in all its glory in this stunning image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, originally captured last year but recently released by NASA on April 29.
Taking advantage of a new orbital trajectory that puts it high above Saturn’s rings and poles, Cassini acquired the near-infrared images used to make this composite back on Nov. 27, 2012. The resulting image is false color — our eyes aren’t sensitive to those particular wavelengths of light — but still no less amazing!
Bored by blue? Saturn’s skies sure do have a lot more colors, as seen here in a color-somposite made from raw Cassini images acquired on Feb. 27, 2013.
With spring progressing on Saturn’s northern hemisphere (a season that takes 7 1/2 Earth years to pass!) the upper latitudes gradually receive more sunlight and thus more solar energy, warming the planet’s atmosphere and driving the upper-level winds and storms.
Although similar in size to Earth, the planet-next-door Venus is typically perceived as a hellish inferno of caustic clouds, crushing pressures and kiln-like temperatures. And while those are indeed all very much the case, Venus has recently been found to have a cooler side too… although it’s 125 km (77 miles) up in its atmosphere.
The pumpkin-orange colors of Titan’s thick clouds appear in stark contrast in front of the limb of Saturn, which appears quite blue along its sunlit limb due to Rayleigh scattering, the same process that makes the sky look blue here on Earth.
The image here is a color composite made from three separate raw images acquired by Cassini on July 1, 2012. Captured in red, green and blue visible light wavelengths, when combined the result is a more-or-less true color image as our eyes might see it. The final image was rotated to make the angle of sunlight come in from the left horizontally, and I teased out some detail in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Cassini was over 1.7 million miles from Titan when the images were captured.
Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI. Edited by J. Major.
On a related note, today another Saturn/Titan color composite I assembled in May was chosen for the popular Astronomy Picture of the Day page, or APOD as it’s known. Check it out here. The image first appeared on Universe Today on May 11, and was thereafter picked up by ESA and from there made its way to APOD. Very cool!
Glowing high-altitude ice clouds were spotted over western Asia by the crew of the International Space Station on June 13 during one of their 16 daily orbits of the planet… the photo above shows the wispy filaments shining brightly in the mesosphere above western Iraq and Uzbekistan.
From the top of the atmosphere, that is! This gorgeous photo, taken from the Space Station on November 24, 2011, looks over our planet’s limb just after orbital sunset. We get a good look at cloud structures, the thin shell of our atmosphere (it’s always surprising how thin it really is), airglow, stars, and what looks like – I may be mistaken – zodiacal light, which is sunlight reflecting off dust particles orbiting within the plane of our solar system. Add to that a bit of the ISS itself peeking into the foreground, and we have quite an impressive photo here!
The ISS was positioned about 240 miles above the International Date Line over the North Pacific, looking west (and traveling its usual 17,500 mph) when this photo was taken.
“The one thing I think that I really took away from just the experience of looking down and up is that, first, our atmosphere is extraordinarily thin. You look at the edge of this Earth, and you see this razor-thin band of air that surrounds this giant rock in space, and it gives you a newfound respect for how much we need to take care of this very thin little atmosphere we have.”
– STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson
Made from one of the most recent Cassini images, this is a color-composite showing a backlit Titan with its dense, multi-layered atmosphere scattering sunlight in different colors. Titan’s atmosphere is made up of methane and complex hydrocarbons and is ten times as thick as Earth’s. It is the only moon in our solar system known to have a substantial atmosphere.
Titan’s high-level hydrocarbon haze is nicely visible as a pale blue band encircling the moon.