NASA's incredible James Webb Telescope is navigating the universe like an old wizard on a broomstick searching for the wonders of the galaxy. James Webb's latest discovery teaches us more about the neighboring planet of Saturn; by a neighbor, we mean 1.32 billion kilometers away. As it turns out, Saturn goes through four seasons of varying weather. Just like us Earth dwellers, if there are inhabitants on Saturn, they would experience the same consecutive flow of seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Each season lasts seven and a half years instead of three months. Still, who would have thought that the planet with flying rocks circulating it would feel the chill of winter and the heat of summer?
How did scientists make this fascinating breakthrough? According to discoveries of the James Webb Telescope, Saturn's axis is tilted at about the same angle as Earth's, so when one hemisphere is leaning towards the Sun, it's summer in that hemisphere and winter in the other. Images of the rings that surround Saturn also suggest the change in season. With Saturn's northern hemisphere tilted towards the Sun, the rings appear more open and expansive. What does this mean? Saturn has had a long summer, but it is on the cusp of fall.
While we are already in the depths of autumn and preparing for winter in December, Saturn will not have a transition period (known as an equinox) between summer and fall until 2025. Whenever you feel like the winter is seemingly never-ending, remember it takes Saturn thirty years to circulate the Sun. That means Saturn won't feel the warmth of summer for another fifteen years. Another thing to remember is that with Saturn's average temperature at -288 ℉ (-178 ℃), at least our winters aren't as freezing as the ones that take place there.
Professor Leigh Fletcher, from the University of Leicester School of Physics and Astronomy, wrote in a press release, "The quality of the new data from James Webb Telescope is simply breath-taking." He added, "No spacecraft has ever been present to explore Saturn's late northern summer and autumn before, so we hope that this is just the starting point and that the James Webb Telescope can continue the legacy of Cassini into the coming decade." Stay tuned for more updates on this incredible discovery!