Saturn eclipsing the Sun

Saturn eclipsing Sun - PIA08329

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Iconic image of Saturn eclipsing the Sun taken from the Cassini probe on 15th September 2006. The spacecraft was orbiting at a distance of 2.2 million km on the dark side of the giant gas planet when this composite image was obtained.

If you look hard, to the upper left hand side, just inside the G ring, a tiny pale dot can be seen….this is Earth from a distance of 1.5 billion km away.

The moon Enceladus can also just be made out to the far left in the more extended E ring. Due to the gravitational tug on the moon, eruptions on Enceladus expel icy plumes of particles which are thought to form the E ring sytem itself.

Close up of Saturn’s north pole

ringshexagon_cassini_960

Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A close up image of Saturn’s north pole and hexagonal vortex of cloud formation from the Cassini mission. This unusual rotating jet stream has retained its uniform hexagonal shape since first discovered the Voyager 2 mission some 30 years ago. The votex above is approximately 25,000km across / 4 Earth diameters in width and rotates in a period of 10 hours and 40 minutes, thought ot be the same as the planets interior. Each side of the hexagon is approximately equivalent to Earth’s diameter.

Astronomers are trying to understand what causes this unusual phenomenon. One hypothesis has to do with the make up and thickness of Saturn’s atmosphere, which is significantly different from Earth’s and which would set up unique conditions for fluid dynamics, another is that it is some form of aurora.

Part of Saturn’s gigantic ring system is seen to the top left, with the remainder eclipsed by the planet.

Polar vortex on Saturn

Saturn polar vortex

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Images taken on the 27th November 2012 by the Cassini space craft from a distance of 361,488km away.

Image shows a giant cyclone, rotating at speeds in excess of 500km/hour over the northern polar region of the gas giant planet Saturn.

The image shown above is just the very central region of a much larger hexaxonal shaped polar weather phenomena, first discovered by the Voyager space craft in the 1980s that extends some 15,000km across as seen in the wide angled photograph below:

Saturn storm large

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini space probe has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 making many significant discoveries about the planet and its moons & has clocked up over 6 billion km since its launch in 1997.