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The stunning images that show the incredible colours of the changing seasons on Saturn

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, measures 3,200 miles, or 5,150 kilometers, across and is larger than the planet Mercury
  • Pictures show the changing colours of Saturn's northern and southern hemispheres as they pass from one season to the next
  • Taken by Cassini, which has spent eight years circling Saturn

Nasa has returned some of the most stunning true-colour images of Saturn, showing the planet suspended in eternal beauty alongside its largest moon.
The crystal-clear images were produced by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has been circling Saturn for the last eight years.
Titan is one of the most Earth-like bodies in the solar system and, even if it is 'just' a moon, it is bigger than the planet Mercury.
The images also capture the changing hues of Saturn's northern and southern hemispheres as they pass from one season to the next.
In many respects, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is one of the most Earth-like worlds we have found to date.
With its thick atmosphere and organic-rich chemistry, Titan resembles a frozen version of Earth, several billion years ago, before life began pumping oxygen into our atmosphere.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft looks toward the night side of Saturn's largest moon and sees sunlight scattering through the periphery of Titan's atmosphere and forming a ring of colour
 Titan is of great interest to scientists because it has a substantial, active atmosphere and complex, Earth-like processes that shape its surface.

The moon is enveloped by an orange haze of naturally produced photochemical smog that frustratingly obscured its surface prior to Cassini's arrival.
Since 2004, the spacecraft's observations have taken the study of this unique world into a whole new dimension.
Cassini has revealed that Titan's surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane (the main component of natural gas), which forms clouds and occasionally rains from the sky as water does on Earth.
Winds sculpt vast regions of dark, hydrocarbon-rich dunes that girdle the moon's equator and low latitudes.
Volcanism may occur as well, but with liquid water as the lava.
On its journey to Saturn, Cassini carried the European-built Huygens probe. On Jan. 14, 2005, Huygens achieved humankind's first landing on a body in the Outer Solar System when it parachuted through Titan's murky skies.
Huygens took measurements of atmospheric composition and wind speeds during its decent, along with an incredible series of images showing telltale patterns of erosion by flowing liquid.
The probe came to rest on what appeared to be a floodplain, surrounded by rounded cobbles of water ice.
As the Cassini Mission progresses, the spacecraft will monitor Titan's atmosphere and surface for signs of seasonal change.
The spacecraft's radar and camera systems will continue to peer through the haze, expanding our high resolution maps of the surface.
And scientists will eagerly await new data that could confirm the presence of a liquid ocean beneath the giant moon's surface.
The exploration of this amazing place is just beginning. Frigid and alien, yet also remarkably similar to our own planet, Titan is a new world – revealed before our very eyes by the Cassini and Huygens spacecraft.

Saturn's rings obscure part of Titan's colorful visage in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft

Saturn has countless moons - at least 24, with dozens if not a couple of hundred smaller bodies in orbit. Seven of the moons are substantial, and in this image three of them can be spotted

 Some of these views, such as those of the polar vortex, are only possible because Cassini's newly inclined - or tilted - orbits allow more direct viewing of the polar regions of Saturn and its moons.
Upon Cassini's arrival at Saturn eight years ago, Saturn's northern winter hemisphere was an azure blue.
Now that winter is encroaching on the planet's southern hemisphere and summer on the north, the color scheme is reversing: blue is tinting the southern atmosphere and is fading from the north.
Other images depict the newly discovered south polar vortex in the atmosphere of Titan, reported recently by Cassini scientists.

This image, taken in October 2004, shows the full scale of the planet, including its shadow stretching across the rings
 Cassini's visible-light cameras have seen a concentration of yellowish haze in the detached haze layer at the south pole of Titan since March 27.
Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer spotted the massing of clouds around the south pole as early as May 22 in infrared wavelengths.
After a June 27 flyby of the moon, Cassini released a dramatic image and movie showing the vortex rotating faster than the moon's rotation period. The four images being released today were acquired in May, June and July of 2012.
Scientists are looking forward to seeing more of the same - new phenomena like Titan's south polar vortex and changes wrought by the passage of time and seasons - during the remainder of Cassini's mission.
Carolyn Porco, imaging team lead based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo, said: 'Cassini has been in orbit now for the last eight years, and despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will show us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous.'
Amanda Hendrix, deputy project scientist, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: 'It is so fantastic to experience, through the instruments of Cassini, seasonal changes in the Saturn system.
'Some of the changes we see in the data are completely unexpected, while some occur like clockwork on a seasonal timescale. It's an exciting time to be at Saturn.'

Saturn as we generally see it: NASA's most detailed images yet (below) can show us the colour diversity as seasons sweep the planet

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