Just a few days before the one-year anniversary of Cassini’s epic plunge into Saturn, the European Space Agency (ESA) shared a new exciting photo of the gas giant.
After studying the planet for 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft ended its glorious mission in a (literal) blaze of glory, by crashing into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017. The final exploits of the veteran spacecraft, which journeyed through the solar system for a whole 20 years, was dubbed the “Grand Finale” and saw Cassini beaming back science data up until the very last seconds of its life.
“We’re coming up to a year since Cassini’s spectacular mission end, but Hubble is still checking in on the ringed planet and its moons from time to time,” ESA officials wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
The Hubble Space Telescope last set its sights on Saturn in early June, some three weeks before the gas giant reached opposition on June 27, and snapped a beautiful image of the ringed planet alongside six of its 62 moons.
Six Moons Of Saturn
While astronomers have discovered 62 Saturnian moons so far, it’s entirely possible that the gas giant could hide many more, just waiting to be found. For instance, in the case of Jupiter, the total number of known moons has just been upgraded to 79, after a team of scientists spotted 12 new Jovian moons while looking for Planet Nine, the Inquisitr reported in mid-July.
Captured on June 6, the new Hubble photo showcases Saturn next to the moons Dione, Enceladus, Tethys, Janus, Epimetheus, and Mimas.
Of the six moons visible in the photo, Dione is the largest. With a diameter of 1,123 kilometers (almost 698 miles), Dione is 10 times bigger than the smallest of the bunch, the 116-kilometer-wide (72 miles) Epimetheus.
The largest of all of Saturn’s moons is Titan, which incidentally is one of the biggest natural satellites in the entire solar system. This Saturnian moon has a diameter 50 percent larger than that of Earth’s moon, stretching for 2,576 kilometers (1,600 miles). As the Inquisitr recently reported, NASA unveiled the clearest-ever images of Titan in late July, after researchers finally processed all the infrared data gathered by Cassini in its 13 years of studying Saturn’s system.
The most famous of the six moons portrayed in the new Hubble photo is undoubtedly Enceladus, which scientists suggest could harbor the right conditions for life, per another Inquisitr report.
“During Cassini’s mission, Enceladus was identified as one of the most intriguing moons, with the discovery of water vapor jets spewing from the surface implying the existence of a subsurface ocean,” ESA stated in the photo release.
Saturn’s Hexagon-Shaped Storm
Aside from these six moons orbiting Saturn, Hubble also spotted other iconic features of the gas giant, such as the hexagon-shaped vortex swirling above the planet’s north pole. This bizarre atmospheric phenomenon was recently described in a study published at the beginning of the month, which showed that the hexagonal storm is a lot taller than previously imagined, the Inquisitr reported at the time.
The new Hubble photo also shows off Saturn’s rings, beautifully illuminated by the sun and captured near their maximum tilt towards Earth. As the Inquisitr previously reported, Saturn’s rings had remained “uncharted territory” until Cassini’s famous dive on August 26, 2017. The event marked the beginning of Cassini’s “Grand Finale” and the first time that a man-made spacecraft explored the gap between the gas giant and its rings.
“The Hubble observations making up this image were performed as part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project, which uses Hubble to observe the outer planets to understand the dynamics and evolution of their complex atmospheres,” explained ESA, adding that this particular image was the first time that Saturn was featured on OPAL.