Saturn’s Solstice: Cassini Spacecraft Captures Images Of Ringed Planet’s Seasonal Changes

First Posted: May 29, 2017 05:30 AM EDT

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has recently sent back images of the summer solstice arriving at Saturn -- in the form of a giant storm erupting on the ringed planet. Incidentally, the longest day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of winter in the southern hemisphere is known as a planet’s solstice.

According to The Indian Express, the summer solstice on Saturn occurs around every 15 Earth years. Reaching the Saturn system and observing its seasonal changes, including the solstice arriving at the planet, was one of the main objectives of Cassini’s Solstice Mission, which is also the spacecraft’s second extended mission.

“We have witnessed – up close for the first time – an entire season at Saturn,” Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Linda Spilker, said as reported by “The Saturn system undergoes dramatic transitions from winter to summer, and thanks to Cassini, we had a ringside seat.”

Saturn’s solstice was seen as a giant storm erupting and encircling the planet. Moreover, hexagonal jet stream’s bluer colors, which had lingered in the gas giant’s far north as springtime haze, had begun to form, disappeared. Interestingly, the features in Saturn’s atmospheres are more muted in their appearance than their counterparts on Jupiter partly due to the hazes.

The mission data also showed how the formation of hazes on Saturn is linked to the chemical composition and seasonally changing temperatures in the planet’s upper atmosphere. A few of the trace of hydrocarbon compounds present there, such as gases like acetylene, propane and ethane, react faster than others to the changing amount of sunlight over the course of a year on the planet.

Another interesting fact observed by Cassini was that the changes on Saturn did not take place gradually. They occurred suddenly at specific latitudes in the banded atmosphere of the ringed planet.

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