Aside from Earth, Saturn is probably the most instantly recognizable of the planets in our solar system. It is the only planet with striking and easily visible rings; other planets, like Uranus, also have rings, but they are not that opaque, and you would never mistake it for another world in our little stellar neighborhood. However, that doesn’t mean it never changes, and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently spotted some very interesting color changes on the planet.
In a new post on NASA’s website, the space agency highlights an article posted on Planetary Science Magazine where scientists reveal the subtle color changes that occur on Saturn. The planet’s rings don’t change much from season to season, but the colors of the planet itself definitely do. A single year on Saturn equals 29 Earth years, so we see that seasonal changes occur very slowly, but it is clear that something is happening below the clouds.
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In fact, in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the bands of the planet changed in a remarkable way. The scientists provided a nice animated image to help make the color changes more obvious. Check it out for yourself:
It may not be noticeable right away, but focus on the middle to the top of the planet’s orb and watch the rings change. New rings are formed, some areas that were brighter become darker, and the darkest region at the planet’s north pole extends significantly downward. These are pretty big changes, especially over the course of just three years, and they point to some very interesting things that are happening within the planet’s atmosphere and possibly beneath it.
“These little changes from year to year in Saturn’s color bands are fascinating. As Saturn moves into fall in its northern hemisphere, we see the polar and equatorial regions change, but we also see that the atmosphere varies on much shorter timescales, “said Amy Simon, lead author of the research, in a statement. . “What we found was a slight year-to-year change in color, possibly the height of the clouds and winds; Not surprisingly, the changes are not huge, since we are only looking at a small fraction of a Saturn year. We expect big changes on a seasonal timescale, so this shows the progression into the next season. “
Perhaps the most interesting thing about seeing changes like these in Saturn’s visible upper layer is what it could mean for changes that occur deeper within the planet. No one really knows what is inside gas giant planets like Saturn and Jupiter, and it is possible that some or all of these planets have solid inner cores surrounded by liquids and gases. We don’t yet have the technology to look deep through thick layers of clouds, but one day we might, and those observations could offer us the clues that reveal where the colors are coming from and what causes the changes.
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