NASA probe’s stunning new view of Saturn

We have already been spoilt for eye candy from NASA’s Cassini mission to the planet Saturn. But the latest dramatic view of the ringed planet with its largest moon Titan will take your breath away.

Titan appears to hang on a thread in the foreground in this amazing view of Saturn from Cassini. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Exquisite, delicate detail is visible in Saturn’s cloudtops from whatever weather systems are operating within its dense outer gases. They contrast with the stark blackness of the shadows of those famous rings on the planet.

And Titan, a mysterious, orange-tinged ball appears to hang on a fine thread which is all we see of the rings themselves, seen edge-on by the space probe in a view that brings home how thin they really are.

The natural view picture was created from a mosaic of six images taken by Cassini’s wide-angle camera on May 6, 2012, when the space probe was about 778,000 km (483,000 miles) away from Titan.

Space scientists say the colours on Saturn indicate seasonal changes that are going on in the giant gas-ball world’s atmosphere. Spring has arrived in the north and autumn in the south as the planet steadily revolves around the Sun, a journey that takes 29.46 years to complete.

Another view of Titan showing its hazy atmosphere and partly obscured by Saturn’s rings. The strange vortex is visible below the moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

When Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004, its northern hemisphere was an azure blue but that is now fading. Instead it is now the southern hemisphere that is taking on a bluish hue as it approaches winter. Cassini scientists believe this change is probably due to the reduced intensity of ultraviolet light and the haze it produces in the hemisphere as winter draws near winter, and the increasing intensity of ultraviolet light and haze production in the hemisphere that is looking forward to summer. Cassini has also recorded violent storms during its time orbiting Saturn.

The team have also been closely watching Titan, which, with a diameter of 5,150 km (3,200 miles) is bigger than planet Mercury and which has a dense atmosphere plus weather systems that resemble Earth’s, creating features such as rivers, deltas and lakes. These features are produced by liquid methane rather than water on Titan.

A vortex of swirling gas appeared over Titan’s south pole earlier this year and planetary scientists are keen to find out more about it. See more images at JPL’s website.

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