Saturn Rings Reveal Mysterious Spokes In New Hubble Photo

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Shows like Star Trek: The Original Series have taught us to dream about exploring the stars, but it turns out we don’t have to “boldly go” too far to find cosmic mysteries. Even planets like Saturn, which we long thought we had figured out, can throw some curveballs at us that make us wonder what else the planet may be hiding. For example, a recent composite photo of Saturn taken by the Hubble Space Telescope reveals what appear to be spokes in the planet’s famous rings.

A Clearer View Of The Spokes On Saturns Rings

It’s difficult to see the spokes thanks to the grainy imagery. Therefore, different observers of Saturn’s rings have used different descriptions for these spokes. Some have called them shadows, for example, and others have compared them to dirty fingerprints left behind by some celestial giant.

Interestingly, these spokes inside Saturn’s rings are not a surprise to NASA, but getting to see such a clear view of them is still a rarity for the most seasoned space expert. Voyager 2 got a look at them way back in 1981, and during Cassini’s orbit of Saturn (which lasted from 2004 to 2017), these spokes were glimpsed multiple times. Incidentally, the reason these sights are relatively rare is that you can only see the spokes in Saturn’s rings for no more than three rotations before they disappear.

NASA’s OPAL Program

Now, it will be easier for both NASA and the public to check out the spokes in Saturn’s rings thanks to the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (or OPAL) program. This program is entirely devoted to scoping out the weather across the various gas giants in our solar system, including Saturn. That will help researchers get a better idea of what causes the spokes in the rings, but NASA already has a leading theory.

Why The Spokes On Saturn’s Rings?

According to OPAL lead scientist Amy Simon, the main theory right now is that the spokes in Saturn’s rings are related to the planet’s extremely strong magnetic field. NASA believes that as the sun interacts with that magnetic field, it somehow causes these spokes. She is hoping OPAL will help NASA learn something more definitive about the spokes, and as luck would have it, the next few years may be the optimum time to make such a discovery.

Saturn’s Seasons

That’s because Saturn has seasons so long they could give the world of Game of Thrones a run for its money. Each season lasts approximately seven years, and we are getting close to the equinox for the planet.

During this time, Saturn will tilt in a way that maximizes its collision with solar winds. If the theory about magnetic fields is true, that means spoke activity will be at its highest, giving researchers the best possible opportunity to learn the truth behind Saturn’s ring’s greatest secret.

Unraveling More Mysteries Of The Cosmos

Learning more about Saturn and its rings brings us one step closer to learning more about our solar system. Like the viewscreen on Star Trek, our phones and computers have become windows to a world much larger than our own, allowing us to unravel cosmic mysteries without leaving the planet. It turns out the tagline for that first Trek movie was right after all: the human adventure really is just beginning.Source: