Saturn Goes Psychedelic in Crazy, Colorful Infrared Photo

A false-color photo of Saturn depicts the planet's northern hemisphere as a swirling mess of green, blue and purple clouds
This false-color view of Saturn's northern hemisphere shows details of the planet's cloudy atmosphere that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Kevin M. Gill)

A new photo of Saturn taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft depicts the planet's northern hemisphere as a swirling mess of green, blue and purple clouds. What looks like a colossal oil slick on the otherwise yellow-tinted planet is actually a matter of wavelength.

The funky-colored clouds in the Saturn photo are the result of the spectral filters on Cassini's camera. These filters can selectively reflect or transmit specific colors of light.

Kevin Gill, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and amateur space-imaging enthusiast, produced the false-color image by combining several photos captured by Cassini's wide-angle camera on July 20. [More Amazing Saturn Photos by Cassini]

Gill used a combination of spectral filters that are sensitive to infrared light at wavelengths of 750, 727 and 619 nanometers. The human eye can typically see light only in the range of 390 to 700 nanometers, so using the spectral filters allows people to view what is otherwise invisible to the naked eye. This type of infrared filter allows researchers to study how Saturn's atmosphere reflects and absorbs specific wavelengths of sunlight.

The Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 to study the planet and its moons, and is expected to do so until the mission ends, in September 2017.

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.