Final Cassini Images Shed Light On Origin Of Saturn’s Rings

James Marshall
June 19, 2019

In its final year, Cassini plunged where no spacecraft had plunged before, down in the space between Saturn and its rings. Its final moments saw if descent between Saturn's ring and surface, needing 22 orbits around the planet until it could not function any longer due to the atmospheric conditions.

In certain cases, the changes were caused by Saturn's moons as they interact with the rings, including the mooon Daphnis.

"These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in numerous methods present a window into solar system formation, the place you even have disks evolving underneath the effect of masses embedded inside them", stated lead creator and Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

"It's like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings".

"If organics were there in large amounts-at least in the main A, B and C rings-we'd see them", Phil Nicholson, Cassini VIMS scientist from Cornell University in Ithaca, said in a statement.

She continued and explained that "Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalizing ones remain". An earlier study revealed that the rings were influencing the shapes of the moons that orbit the planet.

The new spectral map also sheds light on the composition of the rings.

In turn, this information answers some intriguing questions. Scientists finish that at the outer edge of the prominent rings, a sequence of homogenous influence engendered strips in the F ring possess similar length and inclination portraying that they were seemingly engendered by a congregation of clash that all afflict the ring at the same time.

That implies a flock of impactors that is orbiting Saturn, not a swarm of rogue cometary debris in orbit around the Sun.

Scientists are quite pleased with the new information they were able to gather about the rings.

But not everything is enlightening. The close-up ring images brought into focus three distinct textures-clumpy, smooth and streaky-and made it clear that these textures occur in belts with sharp boundaries. "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. And we don't yet know what it is".

There were more mysteries in the rings' chemistry, revealed by Cassini's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. Much to everybody's surprise, the highly reflective nature in this region could very well signal the presence of heavy water ice of the highest purity.

And the spectral analysis also detected no methane or ammonia ice in the rings. This is also a head-scratcher, since previous year scientists had found, among other organics, ammonia and methane raining down on Saturn from its innermost ring.

Even though the Cassini Saturn mission ended almost two years ago when the spacecraft plunged into the gas giant's atmosphere, NASA continues to analyze the data sent back from the spacecraft from just before the mission ended. The puzzle becomes more interesting the closer humanity gets to the rings, according to NASA's Jeff Cuzzi, who has studied Saturn's rings for decades.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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