The endless bands of Saturn


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Cool image time. One of the images released by the Cassini science team this week when it announced the first results from the spacecraft’s weekly dives between Saturn and its innermost rings was a short video made from 137 images taken on its first dive on April 26, 2017.

It is absolutely worthwhile to view this video. It begins at Saturn’s north pole, looking down into what appears to be a bottomless vortex, and continues south to almost the equator. Along the way the movie captures what seems to be innumerable horizontal bands across the gas giant’s surface. Not only are do we see the major bands that have been observed from Earth for centuries, there are bands within bands, and bands within those bands. Like a fractal it appears that the deeper you go, the more horizontal jet streams you see.

Like Juno at Jupiter, the mysteries of a gas giant like Saturn is overwhelming. This is a big and very active planet. We understand almost nothing about its weather systems, its atmosphere, and its interior. And this glimpse by Cassini is only that, a mere glimpse. When Cassini’s mission ends in September, it will leave us a treasure trove of knowledge. It will also leave us a much larger library of unanswered questions, all of which will remain unanswered until we can return, decades hence, with new probes..

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