Saturn’s clouds have roots deeper inside the planet’s atmosphere than scientists previously thought, and Saturn’s rings — now believed to have formed in the last 200 million years — appear to be raining organic molecules down on the planet, according to observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last year in the final weeks of its mission.
Early risers will already be aware that there’s currently a lot of planetary activity in the morning sky, but at dawn in Western Europe on Monday, 2 April, Mars and Saturn will be just 1¼ degrees apart and seen in the same field of view of telescopes at 30x magnification. The waning Moon is close by on the mornings of 7 & 8 April too.
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.
Set your alarm for 6am GMT if you wish to see three naked-eye planets in the UK dawn sky this week. Find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to south and let the waning Moon be your guide to locating Jupiter, Mars and Saturn on successive mornings from 7 to 11 February.
Titan, the largest of Saturn’s more than 60 moons, has surprisingly intense rainstorms, according to research by a team of UCLA planetary scientists and geologists. Although the storms are relatively rare — they occur less than once per Titan year, which is 29 and a half Earth years — they occur much more frequently than the scientists expected.