SCIENCE

New NASA Photo Shows Saturn In A Whole New Light

Saturn the fearsome.

The ancient Romans saw Saturn as the god of agriculture and fertility, a generally benevolent and peaceful deity. Saturn's sometime partner, Lua, on the other hand, brought illness to Roman enemies and oversaw the destruction of their weapons.

In this image published on Monday, NASA seems to have captured two parts Lua and one part Saturn with the mix of shadows and light.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured the photo, titled "Darkness Descending," in May of this year, using a wide-angle lens and an infrared filter at a distance of about 930,000 miles from the planet's surface.

Per a release from the space agency, this particular infrared filter helps scientists locate methane on the planet, which is useful in determining the dynamics of Saturn's atmosphere:

Methane is not a major component of Saturn’s atmosphere, but enough of it is present to make a difference in how much light is reflected by different clouds. The darker areas reveal clouds that are lower in the atmosphere, therefore under more methane. Bright areas on Saturn are higher altitude clouds. Scientists think that these lower-altitude clouds are in regions where “air” is descending while the higher-altitude clouds are in regions where air is rising. Thus, images like this one can help us map the vertical air movements on Saturn.

NASA also released a near-infrared photo of the planet last week (see below), in which two of the planet's moons, Dione (left) and Mimas (right), straddle Saturn's rings brightly in the foreground, while Saturn looms ominously behind:

While Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system, it appears particularly large in the above photo as Dione has a diameter of only 698 miles and Mimas' is just 246 miles. For comparison, Earth is just over 7,900 miles in diameter while Saturn stretches 75,400 miles.

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