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Friday, 24 April, 1998, 21:51 GMT 22:51 UK
Hubble's birthday picture
Hubble's new picture of Saturn
Hubble's new picture of Saturn
Astronomers have produced a spectacular picture of Saturn to celebrate the eighth birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse reports:

Dranatic 'southern lights' on Saturn
Dramatic 'southern lights' on Saturn seen last year
The image of Saturn was taken with Hubble's camera that is sensitive to Infra-red light. As such, it provides detailed information about the clouds and haze layers in Saturn's atmosphere.

The blue colours indicate a clear atmosphere down to the main cloud layer. Different shadings of blue indicate variations in the size and composition of small particles within the clouds. The dark region at the bottom indicates a big hole in the main cloud layer.

The Hubble Telescope
The Hubble Telescope
Red and orange colours indicate clouds reaching high up into the atmosphere, red clouds are higher than orange clouds. Two storms near Saturn's equator appear white.

The rings are made up of chunks of ice. The shadow of the rings on Saturn can be seen clearly. The bright line seen within the shadow is sunlight shining through a gap in the rings called the Cassini division.

In its eight years of operation the Hubble Space Telescope has peered further into space than any other optical telescope looking at infant galaxies, exploding distant galaxies, stars, gas clouds, comets and planets.

Part of the Eagle nebula
Part of the Eagle nebula
Circling the Earth every 90 minutes it has travelled 1.2 billion miles, about the distance to Saturn. It has taken 120,000 exposures and observed 10,000 astronomical targets.

It has produced some of the most spectacular picture of the cosmos ever taken.

Gas thrown off a dying star
Gas thrown off a dying star
Towers of gas form the Eagle nebula. In these columns of gas new stars are being born. Other images show disks of dust and gas swirling around young stars. Out of such disks are planets born.

Rings of gas surround the dying star NCG 6543 nicknamed the Cat's eye nebula. They are cause by lawn-sprinkler jets of gas erupting from the dying star.

Hula-hoops in space
Hula-hoops in space
A pair of gaseous rings frame a star that exploded with incredible violence in 1987. The star exploded in a supernova explosion and Hubble has detected light caused when debris from the blast slammed into a ring of material around the dying star.

It has also taken the deepest image ever of the cosmos. Galaxies stretching back to the horizon of the visible universe. Four billion times fainter than can be seen by the unaided eye.

A distorted disk circles a black hole
A distorted disk circles a black hole
And possibly Hubble's most remarkable picture. A close-up of a giant disk of debris circling a super-massive black hole situated in the heart of a galaxy 100 million light years away.

See also:

25 Mar 98 | Sci/Tech
Hubble sees starbirth
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