NASAs Cassini Spacecraft Discovers New Sculpting in Saturns Rings

first_imgStay on target Saturn is known for its complex rings and NASA’s Cassini spacecraft unveiled more details on their intricate textures, colors, and temperatures.Even though Cassini’s mission concluded two years ago, the spacecraft’s trip to Saturn is still providing data on the planet and how it has evolved over the years. A new paper published in Science follows four Cassini instruments that observed Saturn’s main rings, and how tiny moons embedded in the planet’s rings (named A through G) interact with the particles around them, said a NASA press release. With this observation data, scientists can see how Saturn’s rings are part of the astrophysical disk processes that impact our solar system.Cassini noticed fine details of features that were sculpted by masses within the rings, such as patterns and textures, which each varied from clumpy to straw-like, popping out of its images. New maps also reveal how chemistry, colors, and temperature change across Saturn’s rings. The Cassini data studied was collected during the Ring Grazing Orbits (December 2016 to April 2017) and the Grand Finale (April to September 2017). Scientists are now studying the interactions that sparked these new sculpting details.The spacecraft’s observations also enable scientists to have a better grasp of Saturn’s complex system. Scientists hypothesize that the outer edge of Saturn’s main rings, which are a series of similar-impact generated streaks in the F ring, exhibit the same length and orientation, demonstrating that they were most likely a result of a flock of impactors that all hit the ring simultaneously. This information demonstrates that the ring was shaped by material streams that circle around Saturn itself, rather than cometary debris that moved around the sun and randomly crashed into Saturn’s rings.New images of Saturn’s rings show more detailed features, including straw-like clumps and textures. (Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute)Close-up images of Saturn’s rings highlighted three different textures (clumpy, smooth, and streaky), noting that these textures happen in belts with sharp boundaries. The strange part is that in many places, the belts are not connected to any ring characteristics identified by scientists.“This tells us the way the rings look is not just a function of how much material there is. There has to be something different about the characteristics of the particles, perhaps affecting what happens when two ring particles collide and bounce off each other,” Matt Tiscareno, lead author and Cassini scientist, said in the press release. “And, we don’t yet know what it is.”An infrared spectral map of Saturn’s A, B, and C rings, captured by Cassini’s VIMS. (Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / CNRS / LPG-Nantes)One more mystery was uncovered by Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS). It detected unusually weak water-ice bands in the A ring’s outermost area. Scientists were shocked to find the water-ice bands, because the vicinity is known to be very reflective, which could be a sign of less-contaminated ice and fortified water-ice bands.The new spectral map also gave details on the rings’ composition. Even though scientists already knew that water ice is a main component of Saturn’s rings, the spectral map confirmed that detectable ammonia ice and methane ice were not ingredients. However, the spectral map didn’t spot organic compounds.“It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings. Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on,” said Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker. “Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalizing ones remain.”More on’s Cassini Reveals Disappearing Lakes on Saturn’s Titan MoonNASA’s Cassini Reveals Secrets of Saturn’s Mini ‘Ravioli’ Moons Unusual Ice Formation on Saturn’s Titan Moon Stretches for Miles Hubble Captures Saturn’s ‘Phonograph Record’ Ring SystemTonight: See Saturn at Its Best and Brightest for the Year last_img