Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Cassini 'CAT Scan' maps clumps in Saturn's rings

Results may help explain origin of rings

Saturn's largest and most densely packed ring is composed of dense clumps of particles separated by nearly empty gaps, according to new findings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

These clumps in Saturn's B ring are neatly organized and constantly colliding, which surprised scientists.

Previous interpretations assumed the ring particles were distributed uniformly and so scientists underestimated the total mass of Saturn's rings. The mass may actually be two or more times previous estimates.

"These results will help us understand the overall question of the age and hence the origin of Saturn's rings," said Josh Colwell, assistant professor of physics at the University of Central Florida and a member of the Cassini ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team publishing its results in the journal Icarus this month.

Principal investigator Larry Esposito at the University of Colorado, Boulder is fascinated with the findings.

"The rings are different from the picture we had in our minds," Esposito said. "We originally thought we would see a uniform cloud of particles. Instead we find that the particles are clumped together with empty spaces in between. If you were flying under Saturn's rings in an airplane, you would see these flashes of sunlight come through the gaps, followed by dark and so forth. This is different from flying under a uniform cloud of particles."

The observations were made using the spectrograph aboard the Cassini spacecraft, which left earth in 1997 on a mission to collect detailed data about Saturn, its rings and moons. Cassini -- the largest interplanetary spacecraft launched from earth -- entered Saturn's orbit in July 2004, and scientists have been using sophisticated equipment on board to view and analyze images.

Boulder and UCF scientists observed the brightness of a star as the rings passed in front of the star on multiple occasions. This provides a measurement of the amount of ring material between the spacecraft and the star.

"Combining many of these occultations at different viewing geometries is like doing a CAT scan of the rings," said Colwell. "By studying the brightness of stars as the rings pass in front of them, we are able to map the ring structure in 3-D and learn more about the shape, spacing and orientation of clusters of particles."

The observations confirm that the gravitational attraction of ring particles to each other creates clumps, or "self-gravity wakes." If the clumps were farther from Saturn, they might continue to grow into a moon. But because these clumps are so close to Saturn, their different speeds around Saturn counteract this gravitational attraction so that the clumps get stretched like taffy and pulled apart. The clumps are constantly forming and coming apart once they get to be about 30 to 50 meters (about 100 to 150 feet) across.

"At any given time, most particles are going to be in one of the clumps, but the particles keep moving from clump to clump as clumps are destroyed and new ones are formed," added Colwell.

Colwell is a professor in UCF's growing program in planetary sciences. He joined the faculty because of the "opportunity to be involved in growing a new planetary sciences program."

Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

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...

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

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>