James Webb’s beautiful image of Saturn with its glowing rings

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a strange and unusual view of Saturn, aiming to distinguish smaller objects and structures.

Saturn by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Captured as a ghost ball, with sparkling rings brighter than ever. Three moons, Dione, Tethys, and Enceladus, are also visible.

“It’s not a familiar image of Saturn in any way,” says the planetary scientist. Lee Fletcher from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. In the atmosphere you don’t see the lines that characterize Saturn at deeper levels. That’s because the specific wavelength we chose is the one at which the methane gas in Saturn’s atmosphere absorbs almost all of the sunlight. So it looks really, really dark.”

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Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, M. Tiscareno (SETI Institute), M. Hedman (University of Idaho), M. El Moutamid (Cornell University), M. Showalter (SETI Institute), L. Leicester) and H. Hammel (AURA) and J. DePasquale (STScI).

The image is based on observations of the planet in it near infrared (NIR). Fletcher hopes JWST’s infrared detectors will reveal small, faint structures in Saturn’s atmosphere, its rings and moons that have been missed by previous missions, such as the Cassini probe. Cassini last took pictures of Saturn in 2017. Since then, the planet has been gradually tilting its rings until they appear thinner than Earth’s. Saturn moves toward the part of its thirty-year orbit where both poles receive equal amounts of sunlight. At this point, the rings are thinnest as seen from Earth and therefore difficult to see.

It is similar to the autumnal equinox, or moderation On Earth, the night is as long as the day, so it’s time to take another look at the Saturn system,” says Fletcher.

ice granules

Fletcher said Saturn’s unusual appearance is partly due to infrared-sensitive aerosols high in the stratosphere, which give the planet an opaque appearance rather than the typical band structure. The bright white rings are caused by highly reflective ice grains that reflect sunlight.

Fletcher and colleagues will use the image as a point of comparison with later images. It will also help to study long exposures of Saturn and its surroundings, similar to a short film, so that smaller moving objects and structures can be distinguished, such as smaller moons, for example.

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Sophie Baker

"Award-winning music trailblazer. Gamer. Lifelong alcohol enthusiast. Thinker. Passionate analyst."

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