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!
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided the first direct evidence of small meteoroids breaking into streams of rubble and crashing into Saturn’s rings.
These observations make Saturn’s rings the only location besides Earth, the Moon and Jupiter where meteor impacts have been observed as they occur. The meteoroids at Saturn are estimated to range from about one-half inch to several yards (1 centimeter to several meters) in size.
“These new results imply the current-day impact rates for small particles at Saturn are about the same as those at Earth — two very different neighborhoods in our solar system — and this is exciting to see,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It took Saturn’s rings acting like a giant meteoroid detector — 100 times the surface area of the Earth — and Cassini’s long-term tour of the Saturn system to address this question.”
Thanks to Cassini we’ve known about the jets of icy brine spraying from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus for about 8 years now, but this week it was revealed at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference outside Houston, Texas that Enceladus’ jets very likely reach all the way down to the sea — a salty subsurface sea of liquid water that’s thought to lie beneath nearly 10 kilometers of ice.
“To touch the jets of Enceladus is to touch the most accessible salty, organic-rich, extraterrestrial body of water and, hence, habitable zone, in our solar system.”
– Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco
This is a color composite image of Rhea (pronounced REE-ah) I made from raw images acquired by the Cassini spacecraft on March 9, 2013, during its most recent — and final — close pass of the moon. The visible-light colors of Rhea’s frozen surface have been oversaturated to make them more apparent… even so, it’s still a very monochromatic place.
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.
First Alderaan, then Prometheus?? Here we go again!
Saturn’s moon Mimas looks uncannily like the Death Star, and this animation by Diamond Sky Productions makes the resemblance even more apparent. Now witness the power of this fully-armed battle station!
(No shepherd moons were harmed in the making of this video.)
Although surface temperatures on Titan are cold enough that methane can exist as a liquid, filling lakes and flowing in streams, it may sometimes get so cold that even the liquid methane and ethane freezes, forming floes and icebergs of frozen hydrocarbons. This Titanic revelation was announced today during the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, CA.