NASA Has Discovered Enigmatic Spokes that Are in Motion Along the Rings of Saturn

Planetary scientists were able to observe the reappearance of unusual formations on Saturn’s rings, identified as blotches on the left side of the rings, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA / ESA / Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC)

For many years, astronomers have observed fleeting shapes emerge and vanish on Saturn’s rings. After more than a decade, these mysterious, blotch-like forms have returned. NASA refers to them as «spokes» and they are now visible on the left side of the rings in the new Hubble telescope images. This is a unique event in an uncommon location within our solar system, as there are only a handful of known ringed objects in our cosmic vicinity.

NASA / Hubble

Saturn with rings, featuring enigmatic «spokes» on the left.

The spokes of Saturn’s rings disappear during the planet’s winter or summer solstice. Just like on Earth, this happens when sunlight reaches its furthest or lowest extent, with the summer solstice being the longest day of the year. As the equinox approaches, the blotches return, which is the point in fall or spring when day and night are about the same length. Due to Saturn’s distance from the sun, each season on the planet lasts for seven years. Therefore, it takes a considerable amount of time for the Saturnian seasons to change.

Despite close observation of Saturn’s rings by NASA’s Cassini probe, planetary scientists still do not fully understand the exact timing of the patterns’ return.

Preview photo credit NASA / ESA / Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC)
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