Voyager 2 image of Saturn ring spokes. Image courtesy NASA/JPL.
The unusual spokes that appear fleetingly on the rings of Saturn only to disappear for years at a time may become visible again by July, according to a new study spearheaded by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The spokes, which are up to 6,000 miles long and 1,500 miles in width, were first spotted 26 years ago by the Voyager spacecraft, said CU-Boulder Mihaly Horanyi of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. But when the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in July of 2004, the striking radial features that cut across Saturn’s ring plane were nowhere to be found -- an event that disappointed and puzzled many scientists, he said.
The Hubble Space Telescope occasionally observed the ring spokes in the late 1990s, said Horanyi, also a professor of physics at CU-Boulder. But the spokes gradually faded, a result of Saturn’s seasonal, orbital motion and its tilted axis of rotation that altered the light-scattering geometry.
Mihaly Horanyi | EurekAlert!
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