In March 2003, Saturn's rings were at maximum tilt toward Earth, a special event occurring every 15 years. With the rings fully tilted, astronomers get the best views of the planet's Southern Hemisphere. They took advantage of the rings' unique alignment by using Hubble to capture some stunning images.
Astronomers then wove those images into a time-lapse movie of Saturn's rotation and southern region. The planet spins more than twice as fast as Earth does, completing a rotation every 10 hours. As Saturn rotates, so do its rings. But the ring material is so evenly spread out along each ring that in this movie one cannot see the rings rotating around Saturn.
After showing Saturn spinning, the movie then offers a close-up of the planet's Southern Hemisphere. Astronomers enhanced the contrast in this close-up sequence to make Saturn's features more apparent. The close-up views reveal the planet's banded cloud structure, which is similar to Jupiter's. Saturn's clouds, however, are beneath a thick layer of haze. The haze, however, does not obscure several storms – the blue and white spots – in the planet's dynamic atmosphere.
The 24-second movie is created from Hubble images taken over a 24-hour span. The images were taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys.