Saturn's rings are back

July 10, 2012 By Jia-Rui C. Cook
These three Cassini images show a propeller-shaped structure created by an unseen moon in Saturn's A ring. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Cornell

(Phys.org) -- It's been nearly two years since NASA's Cassini spacecraft has had views like these of Saturn's glorious rings. These views are possible again because Cassini has changed the angle at which it orbits Saturn and regularly passes above and below Saturn's equatorial plane. Steeply inclined orbits around the Saturn system also allow scientists to get better views of the poles and atmosphere of Saturn and its moons.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has recently resumed the kind of orbits that allow for spectacular views of Saturn's rings. This view, from Cassini's imaging camera, shows the outer A ring and the F ring. The wide gap in the image is the Encke gap, where you see not only the embedded moon Pan but also several kinky, dusty ringlets. A wavy pattern on the inner edge of the Encke gap downstream from Pan and aspiral pattern moving inwards from that edge show Pan's gravitational influence. The narrow gap close to the outer edge is the Keeler gap. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Cassini's recent return of ring images has started to pay off. A group of scientists has restarted the team's studies of propeller-shaped gaps. These gaps are cleared out by objects that are smaller than known moons but larger than typical ring particles. Cassini scientists haven't seen propellers in two years. Matt Tiscareno, a Cassini imaging team associate at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and colleagues have been following these objects for several years. Because some of the propellers are exactly where models predicted they would be, scientists believe they are seeing some old friends again.

Scientists are eagerly waiting for the other data that will come from this change in perspective. What's the secret to getting Cassini to at such high angles? Cassini's lead navigator, Duane Roth, explains in a JPL blog post: http://blogs.jpl.nasa.gov/2012/07/a-different-slant/.

Explore further: Cassini Returns Never-Before-Seen Views of the Ringed Planet

Related Stories

Journey to Saturn From Your Computer

February 1, 2008

Want a peek at Saturn as seen from space? A new interactive 3-D viewer that uses a game engine and allows users to travel to Saturn and see it the way the Cassini spacecraft sees it is now online at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/CASSIE ...

Saturn Propellers Reflect Solar System Origins

July 8, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists using NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn have stalked a new class of moons in the rings of Saturn that create distinctive propeller-shaped gaps in ring material. It marks the first time scientists ...

Portraits of moons captured by Cassini

December 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully completed its closest-ever pass over Saturn's moon Dione on Monday, Dec. 12, slaloming its way through the Saturn system on its way to tomorrow's close flyby of Titan. ...

Cassini delivers holiday treats from Saturn

December 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- No team of reindeer, but radio signals flying clear across the solar system from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have delivered a holiday package of glorious images. The pictures, from Cassini’s imaging ...

Cassini spots tiny moon, begins to tilt orbit

May 22, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its closest approach to Saturn's tiny moon Methone as part of a trajectory that will take it on a close flyby of another of Saturn's moons, Titan. The Titan flyby will put the ...

Recommended for you

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.