Hubble Snaps Rare Moon Parade Across Saturn

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Once every 15 years, Saturn flashes its paper-thin rings in edge-on formation relative to Earth. 

Because the orbits of Saturn’s major satellites are in the ring plane, too, this alignment gives astronomers a rare opportunity to capture a spectacular parade of celestial bodies crossing Saturn’s surface.

Leading this moon train is Titan – larger than the planet Mercury. The frigid moon’s thick nitrogen atmosphere is tinted orange with the smoggy byproducts of sunlight interacting with methane and nitrogen. Several of the much smaller icy moons that are closer in to the planet line up along the upper edge of the rings. 

In the image, snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope on February 24, the giant orange moon Titan casts a large shadow onto Saturn’s north polar hood. Below Titan, near the ring plane and to the left is the moon Mimas, casting a much smaller shadow onto Saturn’s equatorial cloud tops. Farther to the left, and off Saturn’s disk, are the bright moon Dione and the fainter moon Enceladus.

Hubble’s exquisite sharpness also reveals Saturn’s banded cloud structure, which is similar to Jupiter’s.

hs-2009-12-b-print

The top frame captures the giant moon Titan and its shadow near Saturn's northern polar hood. Dione, the brightest of the icy moons in this view – which are closer in to Saturn – can easily be traced crossing the disk from far left to image center. In the center frame, the smaller moon Enceladus can be seen near the western limb of Saturn. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

At the time, Saturn was at a distance of roughly 775 million miles (1.25 billion kilometers) from Earth. Hubble can see details as small as 190 miles (300 km) across on Saturn. The dark band running across the face of the planet slightly above the rings is the shadow of the rings cast on the planet.

Early 2009 was a favorable time for viewers with small telescopes to watch moon and shadow transits crossing the face of Saturn. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, crossed Saturn on four separate occasions: January 24, February 9, February 24, and March 12, although not all events were visible from all locations on Earth.

 This “ring plane crossing” occurs every 14-15 years. In 1995-96 Hubble witnessed the ring plane crossing event, as well as many moon transits, and even helped discover several new moons of Saturn.

Source (and more images!): HubbleSite


42 Responses

  1. Calvin says:

    Heh… at this point I think someone is impersonating OillsMastery. That’s not very nice! >< 😛

    Anyway, cool article it makes me want to go look at Saturn through a telescope.

  2. OilIsMastery says:

    Saturn’s Rings defy gravitation and gravity and cannot be explained in terms of them.

    Since gravitation is alleged to act in all directions, the rings should be a sphere shape and not in a flat plane.

    However, Saturn’s Ring are observed to be in a flat plane perpendicular to the lines of force of Saturn’s magnetic field.

    Therefore the Rings of Saturn can only be explained by electromagnetism, Electric Universe Theory, and Plasma Cosmology.

  3. formulaterp says:

    If you look closely, you can just make out the Giant Lightning Bolts from Space.

  4. Joe says:

    Cool Mini Solar System

    Joe.TO.

  5. Dave Finton says:

    Beautiful picture! It’s amazing what a little planetary debris, angular momentum, and some gravity can accomplish on its own without having to resort to bizarre models of the Universe that have no basis in observational astronomy! =D

    /Sorry, Oills, but you were asking for it

  6. OilIsMastery says:

    Dave Finton,

    “/Sorry, Oills, but you were asking for it”

    What gave you the impression I was asking for 17th century creationism, occult pseudoscience, and crackpottery?

    “…to establish it [gravitation] as original or primitive in certain parts of matter is to resort either to miracle or an imaginary occult quality.” — Gottfreid W. Leibniz, polymath, July 1710

  7. Jorge says:

    What really defies gravitation is the fact that OM remains at the surface of the Earth. With all the vacuum in that head and good old Archimedes’ laws of buoyancy one would expect him to liftoff and become yet another bit of “unexpected debris” up there, threatening the space station.

    So gravity has to be wrong. What really keeps the universe together is a new force I’m calling Dumbo Force. I’ll expand on this theory that defies all the crackpot theories of gravitation AND electromagnetism in a paper that will be published in Anals of Pseudoscience.

    Don’t forget to buy. I want your money.

  8. OilIsMastery says:

    Jorge,

    “What really defies gravitation is the fact that OM remains at the surface of the Earth.”

    An excellent point. Since the universe is infinite in every direction, my body should be torn apart by infinite gravitational force.

  9. Joel Raupe says:

    Even Kepler had to admit the ellipse made more sense than a perfect circle, in the Copernican model. Angular momentum must be a very enduring quality. I can’t, however, fathom how anyone would confuse electro-magnetism with gravity.

    With the former, at least, the wave aspect has been detected and mapped. Gravity, on the other hand, has not yet been detected as a waveform, though it is assumed that it eventually will.

    Wouldn’t it be something if, as we begin to understand quantum theory, if gravity, as a relatively weak force, turns out to be enduring superposition?

    (If Saturn’s rings are supposed to be a sphere, how does one explain the ecliptic? Heck, I could argue that the Oort Cloud should, at any given moment, be prejudiced by probability into three apparent rings. Take a closer look at the rings as seen very close up by Cassini, OM.)

  10. Bill L. says:

    “anals of pseudoscience”.

    lol buttz.

    Also though, sweet article. And does anyone know exactly how powerful of a telescope is needed to make out Titan transiting?

  11. Mr.Obvious says:

    <>

    No they don’t. In fact, the assist in describing it. Duh. Your ignorance however, doesn’t defy anything.

    <>

    Gravity doesn’t act in all directions. If it did, there would be a constant ‘pinball’ effect, not to mention… evertime you drool it wouldn’t move towards the Earth’s core, it would go upwards (left, right, diagnally… you know, all the directions). Duh.

    <>

    Gravity and magnetic fields are two different things. In fact, you might be shocked to find out there is gravity in the absense of magnetism and or electricity. Duh. However, the fact you believe something so rediculous is probably tied into the time you put your finger in an electrical outlet, causing you to fall down (not up,left, or right) and crack your head.

    <>

    No way… too easy! I’ll let the rest of you come up with a comment here!

  12. maudyfish says:

    The “pin ball effect” is that like in star clusters?

  13. star-grazer says:

    It matters not to any child what telescope you use to view Saturn-when they see the rings of Saturn, it is a wonder for them to behold!!!.

  14. OilIsMastery says:

    Joel Raupe,

    “Even Kepler had to admit the ellipse made more sense than a perfect circle, in the Copernican model. Angular momentum must be a very enduring quality. I can’t, however, fathom how anyone would confuse electro-magnetism with gravity.”

    Obviously you’ve never read Kepler.

    “The example of the magnet I have hit upon is a very pretty one, and entirely suited to the subject; indeed, it is little short of being the very truth.” — Johannes Kepler, astronomer/mathematician, 1609

    “It is therefore plausible, since the Earth moves the moon through its species and magnetic body, while the sun moves the planets similarly through an emitted species, that the sun is likewise a magnetic body.” — Johannes Kepler, astronomer/mathematician, 1609

    “But come: let us follow more closely the tracks of this similarity of the planetary reciprocation [libration] to the motion of a magnet, and that by a most beautiful geometric demonstration, so that it might appear that a magnet has such a motion as that which we perceive in the planet.” — Johannes Kepler, astronomer/mathematician, 1609

  15. Mr.Obvious says:

    OillsMas
    Apparently the only thing you know about Kepler is googling for his quotes (or anybody elses).
    If you actually had any real astronomical knowledge you would know Kepler was the first person to realize planets do not orbit in a circle… and he also noted how the speed of planets changed during certain phases of an orbit.

    That foot looks rather perfect in your mouth.

  16. VV says:

    “Therefore the Rings of Saturn can only be explained by electromagnetism, Electric Universe Theory, and Plasma Cosmology.”

    Acutally that explains a lot. I was just sitting here noticing how the orbit of the moons is tilted with respect to the rings and thinking to myself “now wouldn’t the mass (and therefore gravity) of the moons f-up the rings?” Not if they are related to EM fields I guess.

    “Kepler was the first person to realize planets do not orbit in a circle… and he also noted how the speed of planets changed during certain phases of an orbit.”

    Yep, that is correct.

  17. OilIsMastery says:

    Mr. Obvious,

    “Apparently the only thing you know about Kepler is googling for his quotes (or anybody elses).”

    At least I know what Kepler said and I provide direct quotes to prove it. Apparently you don’t.

    “If you actually had any real astronomical knowledge you would know Kepler was the first person to realize planets do not orbit in a circle… and he also noted how the speed of planets changed during certain phases of an orbit.”

    You say that based upon ignorance and a lack of education. As far as I know, Democritus was the first person to realize planets do not orbit in a circle when he said that worlds collide (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies). However, it is likely that Democritus got the idea from Egypt and from civilizations prior.

  18. Marco says:

    I do not fault OilsMastery for his inane comments. Every village needs an idiot and it would appear he has taken on that role for UT. The people I fault are the ones who take the time to answer him. You are the ones that egg him on to clutter up this site. OM should not be banned, just ignored.

    My sincere apologies to village idiots everywhere. I normally would be much more respectful of your profession. I did not mean to cast a bad light on you by associating you with OM. I will be willing to donate to any village idiot organizations that you make me aware of. And no, the Official Village People Fan Club does not count.

  19. Marco says:

    By the way, stunning photos. Only Cassini does better.

  20. Feenixx says:

    OilIsMastery Says:
    “Saturn’s Ring are observed to be in a flat plane perpendicular to the lines of force of Saturn’s magnetic field.

    Therefore the Rings of Saturn can only be explained by electromagnetism, Electric Universe Theory, and Plasma Cosmology.”

    The rings of Saturn have been created flat and filled with Helium – hence they float.

    “It’s just the way it works.”
    The Incredible Hulk, Phyicist, 1980

    “What you see isn’t always what you get.”
    Dr. Strange, Metaphysicist, 1979

    “Will you ever grow up?”
    Iron Man, Engineer, 1974

  21. OilIsMastery says:

    Feenix,

    “The rings of Saturn have been created flat and filled with Helium – hence they float.”

    Ah, a creationist. No wonder you believe in gravitation.

    “…lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other, he [God] hath placed those systems at immense distances from one another.” — Isaac Newton, mathematician, 1687

  22. Feenixx says:

    VV thinks to himself or herself:
    “now wouldn’t the mass (and therefore gravity) of the moons f-up the rings?”

    actually, they do, and there is a blog posting with an impressive picture (taken by Cassini) on UT, but I cannot find it now. You might click on “Saturn” in the links section to the right in this page. It isn’t the first image in the article, so you’ll need to click to “continue reading”.

  23. Feenixx says:

    OilIsMastery,
    I didn’t say I believe in gravitation. I said the rings are filled with Helium, hence they float. I don’t want to talk about gravitation, it’s too “fringe” for a science web site.

    But things filled with Helium float, I _know_ that, have known it since I was a very young kid. It’s undisputable.

    “I must go and get some sleep.”
    Minnie Mouse, housewife, 1953

  24. kiwigazer says:

    Talking of saturn I would love to see it through my own telescope.
    I would really appreciate it if someone could advise me on whether the Galileoscope is good value at US $40 which is what it will cost me with shipping, is this still a better bet than a department store telescope, I can get one from an electronics chain with similar specs (from what I can tell) plus a tripod for US $30, I have been waiting for some independent reviews and/or some photo’s of what you can see of saturn and jupiter. If I wait too long I may miss out altogether so would appreciate some advise, it’s frustrating when they only talk about it’s value minus freight when most of us if not all will have to pay freight.

  25. chrisman says:

    dear Oil is… whats up friend? i’ve been reading your inputs for a while now with interest and cant work out what your anger is.. cant you enjoy some beautiful pictures without mentioning gravity? Incase it slips us all no one has yet come up with definitive answers on love, life and the universe.. who can be right?

    “Always with the negative (gravity?) waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves.”

  26. OilIsMastery says:

    Chrisman,

    What makes you think I’m angry?

    Is your defintion of angry “anyone who observes the Rings of Saturn to be a in a flat plane perpindicular to the lines of force of Saturn’s magnetic field”?

  27. robbb says:

    great pic and article. lovely.

  28. Olaf says:

    kiwigazer, any telescope that has about 50x magnification will show you saturn. It is very bright and impressive the first time you see it with your own eyes.

  29. kiwigazer says:

    Thanks Olaf, but is it still good value at US $40 compared to what else i could buy new or maybe even 2ndhand for this money?

  30. ND says:

    kiwigazer,

    I don’t know what your budge it is but there are some decent telesopes at Orion Telescopes.

    The “Orion StarBlast 4.5” might interest you. It’s ~$180. It’s tabletop . So you don’t have to worry about setting up a tripod.

  31. ND says:

    kiwigazer,

    ps. I haven’t used that scope but I’ve heard good review about it.

  32. kiwigazer says:

    ND, I have not seen any independent reviews and have looked high and low for one. I find the promotional material about this scope not that helpful as they reference everything to the fact that it is a $15 scope when in fact for most people it is more than this and for anyone outside of the US a lot more. I wonder how easy it would be to focus accurately with the slide focus and won’t this be highly prone to deterioration from wear and tear of sliding the tube in and out, i.e will it last 5 minutes.

  33. kiwigazer says:

    ND, my budget is pretty small but it all reallyy depends on what I need to spend to get what I want, i really only want something I can view saturn, jupiter and maybe mars well with, I don’t have time to get serious about astronomy although I would love to. Interesting you mention the starblast, I had taken a look at this, like the portability etc…, what would this do that the gallioscope can’t? I am continually frustrated by a lack of images of what you can see with a particular scope, this would make the world of difference for the casual astronomer who does not have time to go to a club etc… to pick a scope.

  34. kiwigazer says:

    Woops got my wires crossed with the starblast, it was the Bushnell 4.5″ Compact Reflector Telescope with Table Top Cradle Mount that I was thinking of. I like the portability of this type of scope, do you know of a good one and what I can expect from it.
    http://www.adorama.com/BS782010.html

  35. ND says:

    kiwigazer,

    Good question. I have no idea how long the Galileoscope or at least the focuser would last but looks like decent scope for the money, minus the tripod. Apparently it can be attached to a camera tripod. How much you’re committed to observing obviously determines what you want to spend and you might not know the answer to that question until you start observing.

    I have that model Bushnell 4.5″ scope. It’s a decent scope. I forget how big the Jupiter and saturn looked in them. it will give you a good view of the moon (but you will need some sort of moon or adjustable neutral density filter. The moon can be very bright). You will definitely see Jupiter and Saturn’s moons. Mars will probably be too small. You should be able to make out Jupiter’s two major belts.

    Both scopes have the same focal length so they will give you the same magnification for the same eyepiece but obviously the bushnell has more light gather power. But then again, the Galileoscope should show you the planets just fine since they’re bright.

    that’s probably not helping you much. The Bushnell should come with two eyepieces whereas the Galileoscope comes with one.

    The Bushnell I have starts tiping down when looking at something lower over the horizon.

  36. Mr.Obvious says:

    Oills, just what sort of mushrooms do you eat when reading? You really should stop… your brain is only about this big now —-> .

  37. Oilismastery says:

    Better than no brain at all, I suppose.

  38. Jim says:

    Anne, re: Moon Parade across Saturn. Great photos! Question: How come the shadow of Titan across the top of the planet is a round DOT, and not a CONE?

  39. kiwigazer says:

    Thanks for the advice ND, it has helped me get closer to a decision.

  40. chrisman says:

    “Chrisman,

    What makes you think I’m angry?

    Is your defintion of angry “anyone who observes the Rings of Saturn to be a in a flat plane perpindicular to the lines of force of Saturn’s magnetic field”?”

    maybe its something to do with your confrontational posts, or maybe angry was the wrong word, didnt mean to offend if it did, well whatever you said above.. im sure its really smart and stuff.
    “an intellectual is someone educated beyond his or her means..” Arthur C Clarke..

  41. OilIsMastery says:

    Chrisman,

    “an intellectual is someone educated beyond his or her means..” Arthur C Clarke.

    That’s a great description of Newton, Laplace, Lemaitre, and Einstein.

    Thx for sharing…=)

  42. Jorge says:

    “an intellectual is someone educated beyond his or her means..” Arthur C Clarke.

    Heck, if this were true, some people would become intellectuals in kindergarden.

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