Changing Planet

NASA’s Got “Space Balls”: A Holiday Package of Saturn and Its Moons

Reports are now swirling around the web of a mysterious “space ball” that reportedly crashed in Namibia in November.

Experts are investigating and trying to confirm the true nature of the dusty, hollow sphere—is it a spent fuel tank, a pressurized gas canister, a random piece of non-spacey junk?

It may be a while until anyone’s ready to say for sure. So in the meantime, why not enjoy a completely different set of space balls: Saturn and its colorful moons.

Yesterday scientists with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft released a holiday package of pictures of “Saturn’s largest, most colorful ornament, Titan, and other icy baubles in orbit around this splendid planet.”

For the record, even though we just passed the winter solstice on Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, it’s springtime for Saturn. [Update: A reader wanted to point out that it’s only winter for those of us here in the Northern Hemisphere … it’s summer solstice for the South side. Guess that’s what I get for blogging in a hurry!]

The gas giant planet takes roughly 30 Earth years to complete an orbit around the sun, so its seasons last a wee bit longer than ours.

Saturn passed its equinox in August 2009, and it’ll be northern spring there for a few more years yet.

But no matter the season, the hazy sphere of Titan is almost always an awesome sight, especially as it performs its delicate dance with Saturn, the planet’s rings, and some of its smaller ice-moon neighbors, as seen from Cassini’s ringside seat.

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