Saturn’s Rings Make The Planet Bluer In Winter

Posted: Dec 30 2018, 9:54am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Saturn’s Rings Make the Planet Bluer in Winter
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The shift in color is linked to changes in the amount of sunlight-triggered haze in Saturn's atmosphere.

NASA's Cassini mission ended a year ago, but its observations are still revealing a great deal about Saturn and its ringed system. During the 13 years Cassini spent in the Saturn system, the spacecraft showed changes in the appearance of Saturn's north polar region. Researchers noticed that the planet's northern hemisphere turned from blue to gold as the north pole approached summer solstice .

A new study finds that the change in color of this region is strongly affected by shadows cast by the rings. Saturn’s rings shade the winter hemisphere and contribute to changes in the amount of sunlight-triggered haze in Saturn's atmosphere that gives most of the planet its golden color.

“I think everyone was kind of surprised by why the atmosphere was blue.” Planetary scientist Scott Edgington, who is the deputy project scientist of the Cassini mission, said in a statement.

Haze in Jupiter and Saturn gives both planets a golden color, while Uranus and Neptune have clearer atmospheres and blue skies just like Earth's. In Saturn’s case, things are different. The planet is not always covered in golden haze.

Saturn is tilted about as much as Earth is. Because of that, the planet experiences seasons in a manner similar to Earth. However, Saturn is also surrounded by a massive ring system that blocks sunlight for the hemisphere tilted away from the sun and makes winters even less sunny and less hazy on the gas giant.

In summers, sunlight breaks apart methane gas molecules, which constitute a small but a significant fraction of Saturn's atmosphere. The breakup triggers a complex web of chemical reactions that eventually make haze. But the haze-making process slows down in winter and leads to clearer, blue skies. Cassini observations suggest that changes in sun exposure are responsible for the reduction of haze and a bluer hue in winter.

"It seems like there's a direct connection between what we see and what the chemistry tells us should happen.” Edgington said.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017 and ended its mission September last year after crashing itself into the atmosphere of the planet.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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