Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2013 July 21
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

The Seasons of Saturn
Image Credit: R. G. French (Wellesley College) et al., NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Explanation: Since Saturn's axis is tilted as it orbits the Sun, Saturn has seasons, like those of planet Earth ... but Saturn's seasons last for over seven years. So what season is it on Saturn now? Orbiting the equator, the tilt of the rings of Saturn provides quite a graphic seasonal display. Each year until 2016, Saturn's rings will be increasingly apparent after appearing nearly edge-on in 2009. The ringed planet is also well placed in evening skies providing a grand view as summer comes to Saturn's northern hemisphere and winter to the south. The Hubble Space Telescope took the above sequence of images about a year apart, starting on the left in 1996 and ending on the right in 2000. Although they look solid, Saturn's Rings are likely less than 50 meters thick and consist of individually orbiting bits of ice and rock ranging in size from grains of sand to barn-sized boulders.

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Tomorrow's picture: Earth from Saturn

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