Hubble Space Telescope reveals ghostly spokes on Saturn’s ring

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a new image of Saturn on October 22, 2023, that reveals a phenomenon called ring spokes. NASA/ESA released the image of Saturn on December 21, 2023.

Hubble captures ghostly spokes on Saturn's ring
View larger. Hubble captures ghostly spokes on Saturn’s ring. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Simon (NASA-GSFC))

The multi-colored main body of Saturn, along with its bright white rings, are seen in the above image. Saturn’s three moons, Mimas, Dione, and Enceladus, are also seen here. The ring spokes appear here as faint gray smudges on the bright Saturn’s ring.

The spokes on Saturn’s ring are transient features that rotate along with the rings and their ghostly appearance only lasts for two or three rotations around Saturn.

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft first captured the ghostly spokes on Saturn’s ring in 1981, and the Hubble Space Telescope has been observing Saturn annually since its launch in 1990 as the spokes come and go.

This year, in 2023, the ring spokes appear on both sides of the planet simultaneously as they spin around the gas giant. The ring spokes look small compared to Saturn however their length and width can be longer than the Earth’s diameter.

Planetary scientists think that the ring spokes may be a product of electrostatic forces generated by the interaction of the planet’s magnetic field with the solar wind. This interaction levitates dust or ice above the ring to form the spokes.

However, no theory can perfectly explain the ghostly spokes on Saturn’s ring since its discovery in 1981.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint venture between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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