Space

April 24, 2012

Cassini spacecraft sees new objects blazing trails in Saturn ring

nasa-cassini
The constant change in Saturn's wavy, wiggly F ring is on display in this set of images obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Scientists working with images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have discovered strange, half-mile-sized objects punching through one of Saturn’s rings and leaving glittering trails behind them.

The results will be presented tomorrow at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria.

The penetration occurred in the outermost of Saturn’s main rings, called the F ring, which has a circumference of 550,000 miles. Scientists are calling the trails in the F ring “mini-jets.” Cassini scientists combed through 20,000 images and found 500 examples of these rogues during the seven years Cassini has been at Saturn.

“Beyond just showing us the strange beauty of the F ring, Cassini’s studies of this ring help us understand the activity that occurs when solar systems evolve out of dusty disks that are similar to, but obviously much grander than, the disk we see around Saturn,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Scientists have known relatively large objects can create channels, ripples and snowballs, or clumps of icy material, in the F ring. However, scientists did not know what happened to these snowballs after they were created. Some were broken up by collisions or tidal forces in their orbit around Saturn. Scientists now have evidence some of the smaller ones survived, and their differing orbits mean they go on to strike through the F ring on their own.

“I think the F ring is Saturn’s weirdest ring, and these latest Cassini results go to show how the F ring is even more dynamic than we ever thought,” said Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team member based at Queen Mary University of London, U.K. “These findings show us that the F ring region is like a bustling zoo of objects from a half-mile in size to moons like Prometheus a hundred miles in size, creating a spectacular show.”

These small objects appear to collide with the F ring at gentle speeds about 4 mph. The collisions drag glittering ice particles out of the F ring with them, leaving a trail of 20-110 miles long.

In some cases, the objects traveled in packs, creating mini-jets that looked exotic, like the barb of a harpoon. Other new images show grand views of the entire F ring and the swirls and eddies from the different kinds of objects moving through and around it.

Saturn’s rings are comprised primarily of water ice. The chunks of ice that make up the main rings spread out 85,000 miles from the center of Saturn. Scientists believe the rings’ average thickness is approximately 30 feet.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA airborne campaigns tackle climate questions from Africa to Arctic

NASA photograph The DC-8 airborne laboratory is one of several NASA aircraft that will fly in support of five new investigations into how different aspects of the interconnected Earth system influence climate change. NASA photograph The DC-8 airborne laboratory is one of several NASA aircraft that will fly in support of five new investigations into...
 
 
NASA photograph by Aubrey Gemignani

New crew arrives at space station to continue scientific research

NASA photograph by Aubrey Gemignani The Soyuz TMA-15M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Nov. 24, 2014 carrying Expedition 42 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosm...
 
 
nasa-cube

NASA opens Cube Quest Challenge for largest-ever prize of $5 million

Registration now is open for NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, the agency’s first in-space competition that offers the agency’s largest-ever prize purse. Competitors have a shot at a share of $5 million in prize money and ...
 

 
Lockheed Martin image

Ball Aerospace equips Orion mission with key avionics, antenna hardware

Lockheed Martin image Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. is providing the phased array antennas and flight test cameras to prime contractor Lockheed Martin for Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which is an u...
 
 
NASA photograph

NASA announces new opportunities for public participation in asteroid grand challenge

NASA photograph Team NOVA Took the Winning Hackathon Prize.   Ten new projects are providing opportunities for the public to participate in NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which accelerates the agency’s astero...
 
 
XCOR Aerospace photograph by Mike Massee

XCOR Aerospace announces latest milestone in ULA program

XCOR Aerospace photograph by Mike Massee The XCOR-ULA XR-5H25 LOX-Hydrogen Rocket Engine, fed by XCOR’s proprietary rocket propellant piston pump technology. MOJAVE, Calif. XCOR Aerospace announced Nov. 20 it has complete...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>