Saturn, its rings and their shadows are on display in this stunning image from NASA’s Cassini mission, showing dark bands across the planet’s northern hemisphere cloud tops, along with the elongated shadow of the moon Tethys near the planet’s north polar region. Other moons visible in the image include Dione (front right) and Enceladus (back right), a world that harbours a potentially habitable ocean under an icy crust. Cassini captured this view of Saturn on 6 December, 2007, at a distance of a million miles using red, green and blue spectral filters to produce a natural colour view.
For reasons not yet understood, Saturn seems to store energy in its atmosphere over decades before suddenly releasing it in massive lightning storms that affect the ringed planet’s atmosphere across enormous distances. The Great Northern Storm of 2010/11 circled Saturn like a snake eating its tail, persisting for months before dissipating.
With just a month to go until the 2016 opposition of Mars, the Red Planet is now visible very low in the southeast before midnight for observers in the heart of the UK. Mars and ringed planet Saturn are presently separated by just over 7 degrees — a low power, wide-angle binocular field of view. The waning gibbous Moon passes by on the mornings of 25—26 April.
The serene beauty of the International Space Station sailing silently overhead needs nothing more than the naked eye to appreciate. But when the dazzling ISS is also in conjunction with a pair of prominent Solar System bodies — such at the Moon and Saturn on the night of 2 August 2017 in the UK — you may wish to grab your binoculars and look low in the south-southwest just before 11:20pm BST.