Space

April 26, 2013

NASA probe observes meteors colliding with Saturn’s rings

nasa-saturn
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided the first direct evidence of small meteoroids breaking into streams of rubble and crashing into Saturn’s rings.

These observations make Saturn’s rings the only location besides Earth, the moon, and Jupiter where scientists and amateur astronomers have been able to observe impacts as they occur. Studying the impact rate of meteoroids from outside the Saturn system helps scientists understand how different planet systems in the solar system formed.

Our solar system is full of small, speeding objects. Planetary bodies frequently are pummeled by them. The meteoroids at Saturn range from about one-half inch to several yards (1 centimeter to several meters) in size. It took scientists years to distinguish tracks left by nine meteoroids in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

Details of the observations appear in a paper in the Thursday edition of Science.

Results from Cassini already have shown Saturn’s rings act as very effective detectors of many kinds of surrounding phenomena, including the interior structure of the planet and the orbits of its moons. For example, a subtle but extensive corrugation that ripples 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) across the innermost rings tells of a very large meteoroid impact in 1983.

“These new results imply the current-day impact rates for small particles at Saturn are about the same as those at Earth – two very different neighborhoods in our solar system, and this is exciting to see,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It took Saturn’s rings acting like a giant meteoroid detector – 100 times the surface area of the Earth – and Cassini’s long-term tour of the Saturn system to address this question.”

The Saturnian equinox in summer 2009 was an especially good time to see the debris left by meteoroid impacts. The very shallow sun angle on the rings caused the clouds of debris to look bright against the darkened rings in pictures from Cassini’s imaging science subsystem.

“We knew these little impacts were constantly occurring, but we didn’t know how big or how frequent they might be, and we didn’t necessarily expect them to take the form of spectacular shearing clouds,” said Matt Tiscareno, lead author of the paper and a Cassini participating scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “The sunlight shining edge-on to the rings at the Saturnian equinox acted like an anti-cloaking device, so these usually invisible features became plain to see.”

Tiscareno and his colleagues now think meteoroids of this size probably break up on a first encounter with the rings, creating smaller, slower pieces that then enter into orbit around Saturn. The impact into the rings of these secondary meteoroid bits kicks up the clouds. The tiny particles forming these clouds have a range of orbital speeds around Saturn. The clouds they form soon are pulled into diagonal, extended bright streaks.

“Saturn’s rings are unusually bright and clean, leading some to suggest that the rings are actually much younger than Saturn,” said Jeff Cuzzi, a co-author of the paper and a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist specializing in planetary rings and dust at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “To assess this dramatic claim, we must know more about the rate at which outside material is bombarding the rings. This latest analysis helps fill in that story with detection of impactors of a size that we weren’t previously able to detect directly.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The imaging team consists of scientists from the United States, England, France and Germany. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.




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


 
 

 

Headlines August 22, 2014

News: GAO: Pentagon violated law with Bergdahl swap - Congressional investigators say the Pentagon violated the law when it swapped five Taliban leaders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years.   Business: U.S. Air Force issues RFI for new rocket engine - The US Air Force is officially looking into...
 
 

News Briefs August 22, 2014

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,200 As of Aug. 20, 2014, at least 2,200 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,821 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result...
 
 
navair-triton

MQ-4C Tritons to arrive at Pax River this fall

  MQ-4C Triton test air vehicles at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, Calif., will fly cross-country to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., this fall. The MQ-4C completed a test flight Aug. 19 with updated ...
 

 
Boeing photograph

Boeing program completes critical design, safety reviews

Boeing photograph Boeing recently completed the Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review of its Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft and the Critical Design Review of its integrated systems, meeting all of the companyís Commerci...
 
 
global-hawk2

Air Combat Command loans Global Hawk to GVCTF

Air Force photograph by Jennifer Romo The 412th Test Wing’s Global Vigilance Combined Test Force received a Global Hawk Block 40 Aug. 6, on loan from Air Combat Command. Tail number 2035, from Grand Forks AFB, N.D., is jo...
 
 

NASA awards program analysis, Control Bridge III Contract

NASA has awarded the Program Analysis and Control III Bridge contract for support services to ASRC Research & Technology Solutions of Beltsville, Md. The cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity basic contract has a minimum ordering value of $1 million and a maximum ordering value of $37 million, with a performance period beginning Aug. 30 through Feb....
 




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>