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Hubble observes Saturn's mysterious “discs” sliding along its rings

Hubble observes Saturn's mysterious “discs” sliding along its rings

NASA/ESA/STScI/Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC)

An image of Saturn taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on October 22, 2023, when the ringed planet was about 850 million miles from Earth. Hubble's ultra-clear view revealed a phenomenon called ring spokes.

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the Hubble Space Telescope A newly revealed photo has captured the mysterious, ghostly shadows on Saturn's rings – the latest sighting of the so-called 'speaker' that continues to baffle scientists.

The composite image, released by NASA on Thursday, was captured by Hubble on October 22, when Saturn was about 850 million miles (1.37 billion kilometers) away, according to Space agency. The space observatory has been orbiting the Earth at an altitude of only a few hundred miles above the Earth's surface for more than three decades.

Astronomers have long known about the puzzling spokes on Saturn's rings, which look like ghosts skating along the rings and can be spotted in different locations depending on where the planet is in its orbital cycle.

Over time, observations revealed that the number and appearance of spokes could vary depending on Saturn's seasonal cycle. Similar to Earth, the planet has a tilted axis that causes seasonal changes, although each season on Saturn lasts about seven years, according to NASA.

Hubble is scheduled to monitor the unexplained phenomenon at the peak of activity, as researchers aim to uncover its secrets.

“We are moving toward the Saturnian equinox, where we expect maximum speaker activity, with higher frequency and darker streaks emerging over the next few years,” said Amy Simon, principal scientist for Hubble's Exoplanet Atmosphere Legacy, or OPAL. program, in the current situation. Simon works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Saturn's autumn equinox is expected to occur on May 6, 2025.

the NASA Voyager 2 spacecraft The first evidence of the speaker was captured in the 1980s. The Cassini mission, a probe dedicated to Saturn, observed the planet The phenomenon occurs during its season Peak in the late 2000s.

More recent observations from Hubble It happened earlier this year as part of a renewed campaign to identify reasons for the speaker's appearance.

These filaments may look small in photos, but they are actually larger than Earth in width and diameter, according to NASA.

Scientists will continue to study Saturn's mysterious speaker during the 2025 equinox in an attempt to finally come up with an explanation for these apparitions.

NASA said in a report: “The suspected cause of the speaker is the planet’s changing magnetic field.” February press release. “Planetary magnetic fields interact with the solar wind, creating an electrically charged environment.

“On Earth, when those charged particles hit the atmosphere, this is visible in the Northern Hemisphere as the aurora borealis, or northern lights.”

Essentially, astronomers suspect that small particles could become charged through this activity, causing them to briefly rise higher than the surrounding material and create an apparent bulge.

Researchers hope that the Hubble data will prove or disprove the theory once and for all, based on observations collected by Voyager 2 and the Cassini mission.

Video explanation: Seven Hubble Space Telescope images, each taken about four minutes apart, are stitched together to show the “talking” features orbiting Saturn.