Infrared view of Saturn

Hazy shades of Saturn

Now heading for Saturn's moon Titan on board the Cassini spacecraft, ESA's Huygens probe will help solve the great mystery of how life began on Earth. This could be how Huygens sees Saturn in 2004.

This false-colour image, taken with the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the planet's reflected infrared light. This view provides detailed information on the clouds and hazes in Saturn's atmosphere.

The blue colours indicate a clear atmosphere down to a main cloud layer. Different shadings of blue indicate variations in the cloud particles, in size or chemical composition. The cloud particles are believed to be ammonia ice crystals.

Most of the northern hemisphere that is visible above the rings is relatively clear. The dark region around the south pole at the bottom indicates a big hole in the main cloud layer. The green and yellow colours indicate a haze above the main cloud layer. The haze is thin where the colours are green but thick where they are yellow.

Most of the southern hemisphere (the lower part of Saturn) is quite hazy. These layers are aligned with latitude lines, due to Saturn's east-west winds. The red and orange colours indicate clouds reaching up high into the atmosphere. Red clouds are even higher than orange clouds. The densest regions of two storms near Saturn's equator appear white.

Last update: 13 September 2004

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