Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Saturn’s rings have own atmosphere

18.08.2005


Data from the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft indicate that Saturn’s majestic ring system has its own atmosphere - separate from that of the planet itself.


Spectrum from Cassini intruments indicating atmosphere over rings



During its close fly-bys of the ring system, instruments on Cassini have been able to determine that the environment around the rings is like an atmosphere, composed principally of molecular oxygen. This atmosphere is very similar to that of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede.

The finding was made by two instruments on Cassini, both of which have European involvement: the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) has co-investigators from USA and Germany, and the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) instrument has co-investigators from US, Finland, Hungary, France, Norway and UK.


Saturn’s rings consist largely of water ice mixed with smaller amounts of dust and rocky matter. They are extraordinarily thin: though they are 250 000 kilometres or more in diameter they are no more than 1.5 kilometres thick.

Despite their impressive appearance, there is very little material in the rings - if the rings were compressed into a single body it would be no more than 100 kilometres across.

The origin of the rings is unknown. Scientists once thought that the rings were formed at the same time as the planets, coalescing out of swirling clouds of interstellar gas 4000 million years ago. However, the rings now appear to be young, perhaps only hundreds of millions of years old.

Another theory suggests that a comet flew too close to Saturn and was broken up by tidal forces. Possibly one of Saturn’s moons was struck by an asteroid smashing it to pieces that now form the rings.

Though Saturn may have had rings since it formed, the ring system is not stable and must be regenerated by ongoing processes, probably the break-up of larger satellites.

Water molecules are first driven off the ring particles by solar ultraviolet light. They are then split into hydrogen, and molecular and atomic oxygen, by photodissocation. The hydrogen gas is lost to space, the atomic oxygen and any remaining water are frozen back into the ring material due to the low temperatures, and this leaves behind a concentration of oxygen molecules.

Dr Andrew Coates, co-investigator for CAPS, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) at University College London, said: "As water comes off the rings, it is split by sunlight; the resulting hydrogen and atomic oxygen are then lost, leaving molecular oxygen.

"The INMS sees the neutral oxygen gas, CAPS sees molecular oxygen ions and an ‘electron view’ of the rings. These represent the ionised products of that oxygen and some additional electrons driven off the rings by sunlight."

Dr Coates said the ring atmosphere was probably kept in check by gravitational forces and a balance between loss of material from the ring system and a re-supply of material from the ring particles.

Last month, Cassini-Huygens mission scientists celebrated the spacecraft’s first year in orbit around Saturn. Cassini performed its Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) on 1 July 2004 after its six-year journey to the ringed planet, travelling over three thousand million kilometres.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a co-operative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency.

For more information:

These findings were published by Coates, A.J., H.J. McAndrews, A.M. Rymer, D.T.Young, F.J. Crary, S. Maurice, R.E. Johnson, R. Baragiola, R.L. Tokar, E.C. Sittler, G.R.Lewis, as ’Plasma electrons above Saturn’s main rings: CAPS observations’, in Geophys Res Letters, 32, L14S09, doi:10.1029/2005GL022694, 2005. Published online 18 June and in Cassini special issue 23 July 2005.

ESA Media Relations Office | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>