Incredible Photos Show Saturn’s Changing Seasons

When the seasons change here on Earth, the weather gets cooler, leaves change color and in some areas, snow begins to fall. But what happens when seasons change on the distant planet Saturn?

Gorgeous new photos from NASA’s Cassini probe, released Wednesday, show exactly that.

Saturn takes approximately 30 years to orbit the sun, so its seasons are much longer than those on Earth. The northern part of Saturn was in winter when Cassini first arrived eight years ago and is now transitioning to spring. The southern hemisphere of Saturn is similarly entering autumn. And though there are no trees to change color and no children to prep for going back to school on the sixth planet from the sun, Saturn still changes with the seasons.

“The azure blue in the northern winter Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading; and it is now the southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, that is taking on a bluish hue,” says Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco.

The changes are due to increases (and decreases) in ultraviolet light intensity and the presence of methane gas in the planet’s atmosphere.

A vortex of gas has been observed on the south pole of Saturn’s moon Titan, believed to be caused by the changing of the seasons (above). The below photo of Titan shows a glowing ring as sunlight scatters through the moon’s atmosphere.

NASA launched the Cassini probe in 1997 to collect data on the planet Saturn. Though Cassini’s initial mission was completed in 2008, NASA has since extended it to collect more images of the ringed planet and its largest moon, Titan as it goes through seasonal changes. The Cassini mission is slated to end in 2017, when the probe will be sent crashing into Saturn.

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