1. K says

    This is a really stupid question but…are those the real colors of Saturn and its moons, or is that picture an artist’s sketch of what it might look like, based on the chemicals detected by Hubble? I mean, how can they get the detail of the gradiation? Science is amazing, but taking a true color picture of a planet in almost complete darkness seems like science fiction.

  2. says


    Saturn’s orbit is beyond ours, so anytime we can see it, it’s illuminated by the rays sun, not in “complete darkness”. Occasionally NASA or HUBBLE folks will color-enhance an image (they frequently do this with photos of nebulae to add contrast since much of the radiation is not in a visible spectrum), but this one looks like it’s just right out of the camera. If you’ve ever actually looked at Saturn through a large telescope, it looks like what you see there in the still photo above. You can see the gradations, you can see the colors, and you can see the division of the rings, at least to this granularity.

    Um, and what do you mean by “Science Fiction?” We presently have a space station, global positioning satellites, reusable launch vehicles, and have had people in space for the last forty-some-odd years now. To me, a video phone with bluetooth is waaay more science-fictiony than a picture of a planet.

  3. K says

    Sorry, I guess I was being too flip. Sort of what I meant was that the scientific progress we’ve made that allows such a photo to be taken is awesome and impressive almost too cool to believe. I wasn’t trying to suggest I didn’t believe in science.

    I was asking whether the image was enhanced, like the nebulae you mentioned, since I’ve been told that those pictures are based more on a (very very educated) imagination of how nebula might look if we could see them. So since the image is true color, does that mean that since Hubble’s lens is never obscured by clouds or anything that the images can be clearer? Wouldn’t the exposure time have to be really, really, really long for the Hubble lens to have enough light to capture that image? I guess I don’t understand how the image can be so clear.

  4. Mr. E says

    K – The Hubble is not only not obscured by clouds it’s in space thus avoids the distortions of the entire atmosphere. There is nothing in between Saturn and Hubble to block out any reflected light. And since Saturn is relatively close to us (compared to nebulae and other stars) and so bright, and Hubble has very advanced optics (as well as being the size of a school bus), exposure times can be pretty short.

  5. K says

    Wow. Amazing. Those explanations were very clear. The HubbleSite news release on this occurence says the telescope can “see details on Saturn as small as 190 miles across” so that explains the clarity. I am sitting on my hands waiting for the Webb telescope’s camera images to be sent back in 2013! Thanks to both of you for being so patient and playing the “How Obvious Is It That I Didn’t Study Astronomy Or Any Other Science?” game.

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