Stunning new image of Saturn's rings and several moons captured by JWST •
Saturn's rings and several moons captured using infrared imaging

Stunning new image of Saturn's rings and several moons captured by JWST

Prepare for a breathtaking journey into the cosmos with the latest image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It is an awe-inspiring shot of Saturn, with its iconic rings casting an otherworldly glow. The unique infrared imaging abilities of the telescope captures Saturn in a whole new light.

The spectacular photo is more than just a feast for the eyes. It is part of a broader observing program designed to push the limits of the telescope’s abilities.

This venture hopes to detect previously unseen moons orbiting around the ringed planet, which may bring us a step closer to understanding Saturn’s present system and its past.

Saturn’s rings are spectacular in the infrared spectrum

What makes this image even more remarkable is the distinctive way Saturn appears in the infrared spectrum. At a specific wavelength—3.23 microns to be precise—the planet’s methane-rich atmosphere absorbs nearly all the sunlight.

This absorption blocks the view of the familiar striped patterns on Saturn’s surface, as the methane-rich upper atmosphere hides the primary clouds.

Instead of stripes, we see dark and intriguing high-altitude aerosol-related structures that don’t follow the planet’s latitude lines. These features are remarkably similar to the wave-like structures that researchers noticed on Jupiter in earlier JWST observations.

Saturn’s rings, devoid of methane, appear strikingly vivid at this infrared wavelength. They easily overshadow the darkened planet.

JWST’s infrared imaging ability

As a bonus, the image lays bare intricate details within the ring system. It pulls back the curtain on some of Saturn’s moons, like Dione, Enceladus, and Tethys.

“We are very pleased to see JWST produce this beautiful image, which is confirmation that our deeper scientific data also turned out well,” commented Dr. Matthew Tiscareno. He is a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute who led the design of this observation. “We look forward to digging into the deep exposures to see what discoveries may await.”

In the last few decades, space missions like NASA’s Pioneer 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, the Cassini spacecraft, and the Hubble Space Telescope have observed Saturn. Yet, the image captured by JWST offers a fresh perspective, demonstrating the capabilities of this advanced observatory.

Researchers expect to uncover more about Saturn using deeply exposed images from JWST. They could possibly find new ring structures or moons.

New details revealed about Saturn’s rings

When we examine Saturn’s rings from the inside out, we notice different features. The dark C ring, the bright B ring, the thin, dark Cassini Division, and the medium-bright A ring are visible. The A ring has a dark feature called the Encke Gap near its outer edge.

Beyond the A ring, we find the slim strand known as the F ring. These rings and the planet cast shadows on each other, creating fascinating visual effects.

In-depth exposures, not shown in this image, will allow scientists to study Saturn’s fainter rings. These include the thin G ring and diffuse E ring, which aren’t visible in the current image.

Saturn’s rings are a complex mixture of rocky and icy fragments, varying in size from tiny sand grains to enormous mountains. Recently, using JWST, researchers were able to study Enceladus.

On this intriguing moon of Saturn, they discovered a significant plume of particles and water vapor emanating from its southern pole. This discovery indicates that the plume from Enceladus contributes to Saturn’s E ring.

Infrared imaging highlights Saturn’s seasonal changes

Seasonal changes on Saturn are evident in this image too. While the northern hemisphere enjoys summer, the southern hemisphere is just emerging from winter darkness.

Interestingly, the northern pole appears unusually dark. This could be due to an unknown process affecting polar aerosols.

A faint glow at Saturn’s edge may be due to high-altitude methane fluorescence or emission from the ionosphere’s trihydrogen ion (H3+). Scientists will use JWST’s spectroscopy capabilities to verify these potential explanations.

In conclusion, this new image from JWST not only gives us a unique view of Saturn but also opens exciting avenues for further exploration and discovery in our solar system.

Annotated version of the new JWST image of Saturn's rings and several moons captured using infrared imaging
Annotated version of the new JWST image of Saturn’s rings and several moons captured using infrared imaging

More about Saturn

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun in our solar system and is famous for its iconic rings. Here’s an overview of what we know about Saturn:

Physical characteristics

Saturn is a gas giant, primarily composed of hydrogen and helium. It’s the second-largest planet in the solar system, right after Jupiter. Its yellowish color is due to ammonia crystals in its upper atmosphere.

Saturn’s rings

Saturn is well-known for its ring system, which is composed of ice particles with a smaller amount of rocky debris and dust. The exact origin of the rings is unknown, but they are believed to be remnants of comets, asteroids, or shattered moons.

Saturn’s moons

Saturn has at least 145 known moons. The largest, Titan, is the second-largest moon in the solar system and is even bigger than the planet Mercury. Titan has a dense atmosphere and liquid hydrocarbon lakes. Enceladus, another of Saturn’s moons, has geysers that shoot large jets of water vapor into space, suggesting that there might be a subsurface ocean.


Saturn’s atmosphere, while mostly composed of hydrogen and helium, also has traces of other compounds like water, ammonia, methane, and ethane. The atmosphere exhibits a banded pattern similar to Jupiter’s, but Saturn’s bands are much fainter and are wider near the equator.

Rotation and orbit

Saturn has an axial tilt of 26.73 degrees, meaning it has seasons like Earth, although each season lasts over seven years due to its long orbital period of 29.5 Earth years. Saturn rotates very quickly, with a day on Saturn lasting only about 10.7 hours.


Saturn has a strong magnetic field, second only to Jupiter’s in strength. This magnetosphere produces auroras and radiation belts.


Saturn has been visited by four spacecraft: Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and the Cassini-Huygens mission. The most recent, Cassini-Huygens, was a joint NASA/ESA mission that arrived at Saturn in 2004 and studied the planet, its rings, and its moons until September 2017, when the mission ended.

Hexagonal storm

At the planet’s north pole, there’s a long-lasting hexagonal cloud pattern, with each side nearly 13,800 km (8,600 mi) long, wider than Earth. The south pole also has a vortex, but it is not hexagonal.

As we continue to explore Saturn with ground-based observations and potential future space missions, our understanding of this beautiful and complex gas giant will undoubtedly continue to grow.

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