New Saturn images from NASA Cassini’s space probe have been revealed, as enhanced by Croatian programmer Gordon Ugarkovic. The images show the detailed beauty of the planet and its moons. Uniquely identified by its ring, Saturn is the largest planet in the Solar System, second to Jupiter. It is about 900 million miles from Earth and the sixth planet from the Sun. The Cassini spacecraft has been flying by Saturn and its moons since 2004, and is regularly sending images and data.
Ugarkovic, who said he is quite underwhelmed by the frequency of color composites sent by the Cassini Imaging Team, added color to the photos of new Saturn images to unveil other details, and highlighted amazing features on the planet and its moons, including Dione and Titan. According to Ugarkovic, the photos are more or less calibrated images which were released to the Planetary Data System. The release of PDS data is about nine months delayed as the imaging team prioritizes data analysis. Accurate reconstruction of brightness and colors over the histogram-stretched new Saturn images of the PDS data is allowed.
Named after a Roman God from whom the day Saturday is also named, Saturn is a huge gaseous ringed planet which average radius is nine times that of Earth; its volume, 95 times bigger and its density, just one-eighth. Nine unbroken main rings and three discontinuous arcs, all of which are mainly composed of ice particles as well as some rocky dust and debris, form its distinctive ring system.
There are 62 known moons orbiting Saturn, 53 of which already have names. Epimetheus is a small irregular moon with about 130km radius and some of its surface’ craters are larger than 30km. Cassini’s data include the icy surface of moon Enceladus, which may have a liquid ocean on the underground; and the peculiar Iapetus.
Saturn’s largest moon is Titan, which is bigger than Mercury and also the largest moon in the Solar System. Seen to be the most Earth-like in the entire system, Titan is the only moon with an atmosphere; and aside from Earth, the only body to have liquid on its surface in seas and lakes. However, its oceans and lakes are not made of water, but of ethanol and methane.
Aside from the new Saturn images from NASA Cassini as enhanced by Ugarkovic, recently released data suggest that Titan has sand tunes which may have been formed by its winds. Some dunes tower up to more than 300 feet, looking like those of the sandy hills of Sahara but are mostly viscous, unlike the sand in the Earth’s deserts. They are composed mainly of carbon and hydrogen.
The interior parts of Saturn are thought to have a core of rock, nickel and iron with surroundings formed from liquid helium, as well as metallic and liquid hydrogen, plus a gaseous layer in the outer part. New Saturn images show the ringed planet exhibiting a pale yellow color as a result of ammonia crystals in its upper atmosphere. Saturn has wind speeds which can be up to 1100mph, which are faster than Jupiter’s and slower than Neptune’s.
The new Saturn images as enhanced by Ugarkovic are all thanks to NASA’s Cassini which has been revealing the Saturn system with several fascinating insights. It has produced most detailed maps of the planet’s moons. Its mission of orbiting Saturn will be until 2017, when the spacecraft will be crashed into the atmosphere of gas giants so that it will not contaminate the moons nearby as it will run out of fuel.
By Judith Aparri
Photo courtesy by Gordan Ugarkovic – Flicker License