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Christmas on Saturn

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A NASA spacecraft has sent holiday greetings from the outer solar system.

The space agency on Monday released dazzling new images of the ringed planet Saturn and its moons. The Cassini spacecraft took the pictures earlier this year.

Saturn resembled an ornament in one image, with a jet stream swirling at its north pole along with a hurricane-like storm.

Cassini also peered through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, revealing hydrocarbon lakes. The icy Saturn moon Enceladus appears as a white snowball.

Cassini, funded by NASA and the European and Italian space agencies, was launched in 1997.

The spacecraft reached Saturn in 2004 and has been studying the planet and its many moons.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Photo above — NASA says: Using a special spectral filter, the high-resolution camera aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was able to peer through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. It captured this image, which features the largest seas and some of the many hydrocarbon lakes that are present on Titan’s surface. Titan is the only place in the solar system, other than Earth, that has stable liquids on its surface. In this case, the liquid consists of ethane and methane rather than water. This annotated version of the image indicates the names assigned to the visible features. Titan’s largest sea is Kraken Mare.

This view looks towards the side of Titan (3,200 miles or 5,150 kilometres across) that leads in its orbit around Saturn. North on Titan is up and rotated 36 degrees to the left. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural-color view. The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Oct. 7, 2013.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 809,000 miles (1.303 million kilometres) from Titan. Image scale is 5 miles (8 kilometres) per pixel.


Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Photo above — NASA says: Winter is approaching in the southern hemisphere of Saturn and with this cold season has come the familiar blue hue that was present in the northern winter hemisphere at the start of NASA’s Cassini mission.  The changing blue hue that we have learned marks winter at Saturn is likely due to reduction of ultraviolet sunlight and the haze it produces, making the atmosphere clearer and increasing the opportunity for Rayleigh scattering (scattering by molecules and smaller particles) and methane absorption: both processes make the atmosphere blue.  The small black dot seen to the right and up from image center, within the ring shadows of the A and F rings, is the shadow of the moon, Prometheus.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 44 degrees below the ring plane. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view.  The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 29, 2013.

This view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.003 million miles (1.615 million kilometres) from Saturn. Image scale is 58 miles (93 kilometres) per pixel.


Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Photo above — NASA says: NASA’s Cassini captures a still and partially sunlit Enceladus. The Saturnian moon is covered in ice that reflects sunlight similar to freshly fallen snow, making Enceladus one of the most reflective objects in the solar system. The blue color in this false-color image indicates larger-than-average ice particles. The moon’s surface is decorated with fractures, folds and ridges caused by tectonic stresses.

This view looks toward the side of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometres across) that faces backward in the moon’s orbit around Saturn. North on Enceladus is up. The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 7, 2010, using filters sensitive to ultraviolet, visible and infrared light (spanning wavelengths from 338 to 750 nanometers).

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 123,000 miles (198,000 kilometres) from Enceladus. Image scale is 3,889 feet (1 kilometre) per pixel.