NASA has released an image of Saturn that highlights its rings in stunning detail.
The James Webb Space Telescope captured the image on June 25 using a NIRCam (near-infrared camera). That camera captured an image that made the planet itself dark while the rings stood out. NASA said methane gas absorbs most of the light from the sun, making the planet darker. Meanwhile, ice from Saturn's rings made them appear brighter.
The image was part of the Webb Telescope's program to detect faint moons around Saturn.
"Any newly discovered moons could help scientists put together a more complete picture of the current system of Saturn, as well as its past," NASA said.
NASA also said this imaging was valuable for observing Saturn's atmosphere. It was the first time Saturn has been observed with this amount of clarity at this particular wavelength (3.23 microns).
"The large, dark, diffuse structures in the northern hemisphere do not follow the planet's lines of latitude, so this image is lacking the familiar striped appearance that is typically seen from Saturn’s deeper atmospheric layers. The patchiness is reminiscent of large-scale planetary waves in the stratospheric aerosols high above the main clouds, potentially similar to those seen in early Webb NIRCam observations of Jupiter," NASA said.
NASA noted that Saturn is currently undergoing Northern Hemisphere winter. Scientists noted, however, that the North Pole is particularly dark. This is possibly due to stratospheric aerosols high above the main clouds.
NASA said that it will conduct peer reviews of the imaging to gain a better understanding of Saturn, its rings and potential moons orbiting the planet.
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