NASA has published a new photograph snapped by the iconic 30-year-running Hubble Space Telescope, and it reveals a mysterious phenomenon occurring in Saturn’s rings.
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NASA has taken to its blog to detail the new image, which was snapped when Saturn was approximately 850 million miles from Earth. The space agency writes that Hubble’s ultra-sharp vision has revealed a phenomenon called “ring spokes,” which NASA describes as having a “ghostly appearance” that only occurs for two or three rotations around Saturn.
The rarity of these ring spokes makes them difficult to capture, but Saturn has been observed for quite some time by Hubble and other telescopes, with the first ring spoke being discovered in 1981 by Voyager 2, then again during the Cassini mission and continuously by Hubble.
“We are heading towards Saturn equinox, when we’d expect maximum spoke activity, with higher frequency and darker spokes appearing over the next few years,” said the OPAL program lead scientist, Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
These ring spokes are located within Saturn’s thick inner white ring. Researchers aren’t sure why or how ring spokes form, but according to the space agency, these apparitions are somehow tied to Saturn’s powerful magnetic field and involves some solar interaction. While these tiny black specs in the above image seem small and insignificant, NASA writes they are approximately the same diameter as Earth.
“The leading theory is that spokes are tied to Saturn’s powerful magnetic field, with some sort of solar interaction with the magnetic field that gives you the spokes,” said Simon.