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Of course Saturn brought its ring light. On June 25, 2023, our James Webb…

Of course Saturn brought its ring light. On June 25, 2023, our James Webb…

The background is mostly dark. At the center is a dark orange-brownish circle, surrounded by several blazing bright, thick, horizontal whiteish rings. This is Saturn and its rings. There are three tiny organ-like dots in the image—one to the upper left of the planet, one to the direct left of the planet, and the lower left of the planet. These are some of Saturn’s moons: Dione, Enceladus, and Tethys, respectively. There is a slightly darker tint at the northern and southern poles of the planet. The rings surrounding Saturn are mostly broad, with a few singular narrow gaps between the broader rings. The innermost, darkest band is the C ring. Next to that is the brighter, wider B ring. Traveling farther outward, a small dark gap, the Cassini division creates a space before another thicker ring called the A ring. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, M. Tiscareno (SETI Institute), M. Hedman (University of Idaho), M. El Moutamid (Cornell University), M. Showalter (SETI Institute), L. Fletcher (University of Leicester), H. Hammel (AURA); image processing by J. DePasquale (STScI)ALT

Of course Saturn brought its ring light.

On June 25, 2023, our James Webb Space Telescope made its first near-infrared observations of Saturn. The planet itself appears extremely dark at this infrared wavelength, since methane gas absorbs almost all the sunlight falling on the atmosphere. The icy rings, however, stay relatively bright, leading to Saturn’s unusual appearance in this image.

This new image of Saturn clearly shows details within the planet’s ring system, several of the planet’s moons (Dione, Enceladus, and Tethys), and even Saturn’s atmosphere in surprising and unexpected detail.

These observations from Webb are just a hint at what this observatory will add to Saturn’s story in the coming years as the science team delves deep into the data to prepare peer-reviewed results.

Download the full-resolution image, both labeled and unlabeled, from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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