Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


University of Chicago instrument ready to begin four-year study of Saturn’s rings


After a quiet, six-and-a-half-year, 2.2-billion-mile journey to Saturn aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, the University of Chicago’s dust detector will soon begin its attempt to help unravel the mystery of the planet’s legendary rings one tiny particle at a time.

Cassini will become the first spacecraft ever to enter Saturn’s orbit at precisely 9:30 p.m. CDT June 30. NASA launched Cassini in October 1997. The University’s instrument, called the High Rate Detector, has quietly recorded sporadic dust impacts in interplanetary space during the mission. "We have seen some impacts, but only a few, maybe one a month. That’s about all you’d expect," said Anthony Tuzzolino, a Senior Scientist at the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute.

But that could change on June 30, after Cassini passes through a gap between two of Saturn’s rings. The rings consist of billions of objects ranging in size from microscopic particles to car-sized boulders locked into orbit around the planet.

"The project chose a virtually void section to pass through the ring system so we didn’t get clobbered," Tuzzolino said. "After ring-plane crossing, then we start the measurements of the trapped dust in Saturn’s system."

The $3 billion Cassini-Huygens mission is the most complex that has ever flown, involving 260 scientists from the United States and 17 European nations. Cassini and its Huygens probe are equipped with a total of 18 instruments. Cassini will release Huygens for a descent to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in December.

During the next four years, Cassini will orbit Saturn 76 times along different orbital planes and execute 52 close encounters with the planet’s 31 known moons. The University of Chicago detector will collect data the entire time as a component of a larger instrument, the German Cosmic Dust Analyzer. Together the two instruments will study the physical, chemical and dynamical properties of trapped Saturnian dust and its interactions with the planet’s rings, icy moons and magnetosphere.

The High Rate Detector instrument, which was built by Tuzzolino and tested with help from Thanasis Economou, Senior Scientist in the Enrico Fermi Institute, will measure particles ranging in size from twice the diameter of a human hair to particles 100 times smaller. The German instrument will measure even smaller particles.

The University of Chicago instrument is capable of detecting 100,000 particles per second as they collide with two small detectors mounted on the larger German instrument. "I wanted that capability, and it’s paid off many times," said Tuzzolino, who has contributed his expertise to dozens of NASA missions during the last four decades.

Last January, an instrument similar to the Cassini detector flew aboard the Stardust spacecraft during its encounter with Comet Wild 2. "On Stardust we had 2,000 counts in less than one second," Tuzzolino said. "You must have a high counting rate capability to make these kind of measurements."

And from 1999 to 2002, another Chicago dust detector flew aboard an Air Force satellite to study orbital debris. During that mission, the instrument detected a cloud of tiny debris particles that was scattered into space when the upper stage of a Chinese rocket unexpectedly exploded in orbit in 2000. The detection marked the first time that scientists had been able to link ultra-small particles to the break-up of a particular satellite.

Tuzzolino looks forward to more unexpected results from Saturn and its moons. "There’s a lot for us to learn," he said.

Steve Koppes | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>