Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cassini-Huygens Looks At Phoebe’s Distant Past

15.06.2004


Images collected during the Cassini-Huygens close fly-by of Saturn’s moon Phoebe give strong evidence that the tiny moon may be rich of ice and covered by a thin layer of darker material.


Shown here is a mosaic of seven of the sharpest, highest resolution images taken of Phoebe during the Cassini-Huygens close fly-by of the tiny moon. The image scales range from 27 to 13 metres per pixel. Smaller and smaller craters can be detected as resolution increases from left to right. The number of blocks, or bumps on the surface also increases to the right. The Sun is coming from the right, so the bright-dark pattern is reversed between blocks and small craters. Grooves or chains of pits are seen on the left portion of the mosaic, which may mark fractures or faults induced by large impact events. Many of the small craters have bright rays, similar to recent craters on the Moon. There are also bright streaks on steep slopes, perhaps where loose material slid downhill during the seismic shaking of impact events. There are also places where especially dark materials are present, perhaps rich in carbon compounds.
Credits: NASA/ESA/ASI



Its surface is heavily battered, with large and small craters. It might be an ancient remnant of the formation of the Solar System.
On Friday 11 June, at 21:56 CET, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft flew by Saturn’s outermost moon Phoebe, coming within approximately 2070 kilometres of the satellite’s surface. All eleven on-board instruments scheduled to be active at that time worked flawlessly and acquired data.

The first high-resolution images show a scarred surface, covered with craters of all sizes and large variation of brightness across the surface.



Phoebe is a peculiar moon amongst the 31 known satellites orbiting Saturn. Most of Saturn’s moons are bright but Phoebe is very dark and reflects only 6% of the Sun’s light. Another difference is that Phoebe revolves around the planet on a rather elongated orbit and in a direction opposite to that of the other large moons (a motion known as ’retrograde’ orbit).

All these hints suggested that Phoebe, rather than forming together with Saturn, was captured at a later stage. Scientists, however, do not know whether Phoebe was originally an asteroid or an object coming from the ’Kuiper Belt’.

The stunning images obtained by Cassini’s high-resolution camera now seem to indicate that it contains ice-rich material and is covered by a thin layer of dark material, probably 300-500 metres thick.

Scientists base this hypothesis on the observation of bright streaks in the rims of the largest craters, bright rays radiating from smaller craters, grooves running continuously across the surface of the moon and, most importantly, the presence of layers of dark material at the top of crater walls.

"The imaging team is in hot debate at the moment on the interpretations of our findings," said Dr Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, USA.

"Based on our images, some of us are leaning towards the view that has been promoted recently, that Phoebe is probably ice-rich and may be an object originating in the outer solar system, more related to comets and Kuiper Belt objects than to asteroids."

The high-resolution images of Phoebe show a world of dramatic landforms, with landslides and linear structures such as grooves, ridges and chains of pits. Craters are ubiquitous, with many smaller than one kilometre.

"This means, besides the big ones, lots of projectiles smaller than 100 metres must have hit Phoebe," said Prof. Gerhard Neukum, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany, and a member of the imaging team. Whether these projectiles came from outside or within the Saturn system is debatable.

There is a suspicion that Phoebe, the largest of Saturn’s outer moons, might be parent to the other, much smaller retrograde outer moons that orbit Saturn. They could have resulted from the impact ejecta that formed the many craters on Phoebe.

Besides these stunning images, the instruments on board Cassini collected a wealth of other data, which will allow scientists to study the surface structures, determine the mass and composition of Phoebe and create a global map of it.

"If these additional data confirm that Phoebe is mostly ice, covered by layers of dust, this could mean that we are looking at a ’leftover’ from the formation of the Solar System about 4600 million years ago," said Dr Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens Project Scientist.

Phoebe might indeed be an icy wanderer from the distant outer reaches of the Solar System, which, like a comet, was dislodged from the Kuiper Belt and captured by Saturn when the planet was forming.

Whilst studying the nature of Phoebe may give scientists clues on the origin of the building blocks of the Solar System, more data are needed to reconstruct the history of our own neighbourhood in space.

With that aim, ESA’s Rosetta mission is on its way to study one of these primitive objects, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, from close quarters for over a year and land a probe on it.

The fly-by of Phoebe on 11 June was the only one that Cassini-Huygens will perform with this mysterious moon. The mission will now take the spacecraft to its closest approach to Saturn on 1 July, when it will enter into orbit around the planet.

From there, it will conduct 76 orbits of Saturn over four years and execute 52 close encounters with seven other Saturnian moons. Of these, 45 will be with the largest and most interesting one, Titan. On 25 December, Cassini will release the Huygens probe, which will descend through Titan’s thick atmosphere to investigate its composition and complex organic chemistry.

Roberto Lo Verde | European Space Agency
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Cassini-Huygens/SEMNL63VQUD_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time
17.10.2017 | University of Maryland

nachricht Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging
17.10.2017 | American Association for the Advancement of Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

Im Focus: New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Hybrid material converts more sunlight and can weather seawater's harsh conditions

It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Plant escape from waterlogging

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Study suggests oysters offer hot spot for reducing nutrient pollution

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

17.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>