Stunning NASA image shows Saturn's Northern Hemisphere in Summertime

NASA has released a spectacular image of Saturn captured earlier this month by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The photo was taken on July 4, 2020, from a distance of 839 million miles, during summer in the gas giant's northern hemisphere. Just like Earth, Saturn experiences seasons because it is tilted relative to the plane of its orbit around the sun.

This means that for half of Saturn's orbit, one hemisphere is always tilted toward the sun receiving more radiation, while the other is tilted away, receiving less.

Saturn is much further from the sun than our planet and it takes nearly 30 Earth years for the gas giant to orbit the star, meaning its seasons are far longer than ours. In fact, the "summer" that Saturn's northern hemisphere is currently experiencing began in May, 2017.

Just like on Earth, the seasons on Saturn affect the weather, with implications for the development of storm systems. For example, once every Saturnian year, a vast megastorm develops. The last one, which appeared in 2010, raged for around two-thirds of an Earth year and spanned 190,000 miles at its greatest extent, according to NASA.

The Hubble image features a number of small atmospheric storms, which seem to appear and disappear in the telescope's yearly observations of the planet.

The cloud bands in Saturn's northern hemisphere atmosphere also appear as pronounced as they did in Hubble's 2019 observations, according to NASA. These bands, which change color slightly from year to year, flow in opposite directions, with winds on the planet reaching up to around 1,100 miles per hour.

The Hubble photo shows a slight reddish haze over the northern hemisphere, which could be the result of this region receiving an increased amount of radiation from the sun. By contrast, the planet's south pole appears to have a blue hue—the result of atmospheric changes in the southern hemisphere during its winter, according to NASA.

"It's amazing that even over a few years, we're seeing seasonal changes on Saturn," Amy Simon, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

Saturn, Hubble
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of Saturn on July 4, 2020. Two of Saturn's icy moons are clearly visible in this exposure: Mimas (right) and Enceladus (bottom.) NASA, ESA, A. Simon Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley, and the OPAL Team

The newly released photo also shows Saturn's majestic rings—which are mostly made of ice—in all their glory, with their concentric structure clearly visible.

Finally, two of Saturn's moons, Mimas and Enceladus, can be seen in the Hubble image in the right and bottom of the photo respectively, visible as tiny white dots. Saturn has 53 confirmed moons, although a further 29 are awaiting confirmation and official naming.

The latest Hubble Saturn photo was released soon after NASA published the first images of Jupiter's moon Ganymede's north pole. The moon is Jupiter's largest moon, and the ninth-largest object in the solar system, even trumping the planet Mercury when it comes to size.

Infrared images captured by the Juno spacecraft on December 26, 2019 provide the first glimpse of Ganymede's icy north pole. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

The infrared images were captured on December 26, 2019 by NASA's Juno spacecraft, which mapped this region for the first time.

Also this week, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released the first ever images of a sun-like star accompanied by two exoplanets. Before these images of the TYC 8998-760-1 star system, which is located around 300 light-years away, astronomers had never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to our sun.

star, exoplanets
This image, captured by the ESO's Very Large Telescope, shows the star TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant exoplanets. ESO/Bohn et al.