The ageing Hubble space telescope has captured a crystal clear image of Saturn from 1.35 billion kilometres (839 million miles) away. Usually the planet is seen as a pinprick of light with the naked eye.
Currently it is summer in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. This means top north half is tilted towards us (and the Sun). The heat is generated from its interior rather than the Sun. The average temperature is a chilly -178 degrees Celsius. The image has provided stunning details. There is a slight red haze in the northern hemisphere. NASA thinks this could be due to heat from sunlight changing the atmospheric circulation, or altering the photochemical haze on the planet. In the picture the south pole has a slightly blue hue. Two of Saturn’s 82 moons are also visible in the picture.
Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since 1990 when it first launched, and most of those images are distant galaxies, nebulae, or stars – but occasionally it snaps a pic of a planet closer to home. Saturn’s picture is taken every year as part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL), with each photo looking slightly different.