A loop high above Saturn by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed this view of the golden-hued planet and its main rings.
This natural-colour view – seen as human eyes would have seen it – shows off the differently coloured bands of weather at Saturn.
A bright, wavy stream of clouds around 42 degrees north latitude appears to mark some of the turbulent aftermath of a giant storm that reached its violent peak in early 2011. The mysterious six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon is also visible around Saturn’s north pole.
When Cassini arrived in 2004, more of the northern hemisphere sported a bluish hue as it was northern winter. The golden tones dominated the southern hemisphere, where it was southern summer.
But as the seasons have turned and northern summer has begun, the colours have begun to change in each hemisphere as well. Golden tones have started to dominate in the northern hemisphere and the bluish colour in the north is now confined to a tighter circle around the north pole.
Cassini is currently in a special set of tilted orbits known as “inclined orbits” that allow the spacecraft to swing up over the north pole and below the south pole. Cassini was tilted as much as 62 degrees from the plane of Saturn’s equator in April of this year and will continue to work its way back down again till early 2015.
Much of Cassini’s tour has involved orbits around the equatorial plane, where most of Saturn’s rings and moons are located.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, the UK, France and Germany. The imaging operations centre is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Cornell