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.
Although Saturn’s moons Dione (near) and Enceladus (far) are composed of nearly the same materials, Enceladus has a considerably higher reflectivity than Dione. As a result, it appears brighter against the dark night sky. This image was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in visible light with the narrow-angle camera on 8 September 2015.
The atmosphere of the planet Saturn has a wider, more intense jet stream than all the planets in the solar system. Winds gusting at speeds of up to 1,025 miles per hour blow from west to east in the equatorial atmosphere, thirteen times the strength of the most destructive hurricane force winds that form on the Earth’s equator.
Skywatchers in the UK looking to the south-southeast shortly before midnight on Friday 9 June can see the rising full Moon just 2½ degrees above Saturn, the pair fitting comfortably in the same field of view of binoculars and telescopes magnifying less than 20×. Saturn is closest to the Earth for this year on 15 June, so here is our quick observing guide to the ringed planet at its best.