(Image via nasa.gov)
Staff Writer: Sakara De Gil-Balija
On February 9th, 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, revealed that the Hubble Telescope observed what appears to be ‘spokes’ floating with the swing of Saturn’s rings.
The information has baffled scientists; seeming to be an unexplained phenomenon.
Though the spokes still aren’t explainable, it isn’t the first time they’ve been spotted by scientists.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was launched into Earth’s low orbit in 1990. And after more than thirty years in use, the telescope has sent back some interesting information.
The spokes are actually believed to be the earliest signs of the change of the seasons on Saturn. Specifically, its autumnal season, which is speculated to start on May 6th, 2025.
Saturn has four seasons, just as Earth does, but because of its position in the solar system and the axis on which it spins, every season lasts about seven years.
While this phenomenon still goes unexplained, scientists are determined to solve the mystery.
The equinox on the planet happens around every fifteen years, the first sighting dating back to the 1980s and its last sighting back in 2009.
According to NASA’s Hubble Website, “the suspected culprit for the spokes is the planet’s variable magnetic field. Planetary magnetic fields interact with the solar wind, creating an electrically charged environment (on Earth, when those charged particles hit the atmosphere this is visible in the northern hemisphere as the aurora borealis, or northern lights).”
This is a possible phenomenon that could possibly happen within other planetary rings but has only been observed on Saturn’s rings so far.
NASA’s senior planetary scientist, Amy Simon, commented, “it’s a fascinating magic trick of nature we only see on Saturn — for now at least.”
These spokes seem to disappear during both the Winter and Summer equinox on the planet and appear during its “Spoke Season,” as NASA calls it.
Simon also expressed, “thanks to Hubble’s OPAL program, which is building an archive of data on the outer solar system planets, we will have longer dedicated time to study Saturn’s spokes this season than ever before.”
In the coming years, scientists will dedicate time and effort into understanding this spectacular event, for a better understanding of our solar system.