Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New observations show dynamic particle clumps in Saturn’s A ring

06.09.2005


New observations from the Cassini spacecraft now at Saturn indicate the particles comprising one of its most prominent rings are trapped in ever-changing clusters of debris that are regularly torn apart and reassembled by gravitational forces from the planet.


The left image is a false-color view of Saturn’s A ring from the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft. The ring is bluest in the center, where the gravitational clumps are largest. The thickest black band in the ring is the Enke Gap, and the thin black band further to the right is the Keeler Gap. The right image is a computer simulation about 150 meters (490 feet) across, illustrating a clumpy region of particles in the A ring. The particles are moving counterclockwise, from bottom to top. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Colorado



According to University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Larry Esposito of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, particle clusters in the outermost main ring, the A ring, range from the size of sedans to moving vans and are far too small to be photographed by the spacecraft cameras. The size and behavior of the clusters were deduced by a research team observing the flickering starlight as the ring passed in front of several stars in a process known as stellar occultation, he said.

This is the first time scientists have been able to measure the size, orientation and spacing of these particle clumps in Saturn’s rings, he said. Esposito is the science team leader for the Ultra Violet Imaging Spectrograph, or UVIS, a $12.5 million instrument designed and built at CU-Boulder that is riding on Cassini.


CU-Boulder planetary scientist Joshua Colwell, UVIS science team member, said researchers believe Saturn’s ring particles are made up of ice, dust and rock, and range in size from dust grains to mountains. The new observations of the particle clusters indicate the A ring is primarily empty space.

"The spacing between the clumps as determined by UVIS data is greater than the widths of the clumps themselves," Colwell said. "If we could get close enough to the rings, these clumps would appear as short, flattened strands of spiral arms with very few particles between them."

Colwell participated in a press briefing on new Cassini-Huygens observations at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting held Sept. 4 to Sept. 9 in Cambridge, England.

Bound to each other by their own gravity, the clumps are periodically torn apart by the gravitational tides of Saturn, said Colwell. He likened the process to a handful of marbles placed in orbit around a beach ball. The marbles closest to the ball would orbit more quickly and drift from the pack before reorganizing themselves into new, orbiting clumps.

The individual clusters were largest near the middle of the ring and became smaller toward the edges of the ring, the team reported. The cluster cores range in size from two meters to 13 meters, or 7 feet to 43 feet. There are no indications yet that similar clumps exist in Saturn’s other rings, confirming predictions made by the team from computer simulations.

The UVIS team also detected a tenuous atmosphere on Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus made of water vapor, said Esposito. The researchers detected no free-floating hydrogen or oxygen atoms, implying the water was recently released -- perhaps from a local fissure near the moon’s south pole -- and was escaping from its surface. Enceladus is only about 310 miles, or 500 kilometers, in diameter.

When combined with Cassini images and results from other spectrometers onboard the spacecraft, the new Enceladus observations indicate water and grains of ice are being spewed from the moon’s surface much in the manner of gaseous jets that have been observed erupting on the surface of comets, Esposito said. "The rate of water released is sufficient to provide the neutral oxygen discovered by UVIS around Saturn last year and to re-supply Saturn’s E ring."

In July, the UVIS team released new images from the mission depicting emissions near Saturn’s poles that resemble Earth’s northern lights. The image can be viewed at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2005/290.html.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph was built, and the team is based, at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov. The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team home page is at http://lasp.colorado.edu/cassini.

Larry Esposito | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://lasp.colorado.edu/cassini
http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2005/290.html
http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Smallest transistor worldwide switches current with a single atom in solid electrolyte
17.08.2018 | Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

nachricht Protecting the power grid: Advanced plasma switch for more efficient transmission
17.08.2018 | 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: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum bugs, meet your new swatter

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

A novel synthetic antibody enables conditional “protein knockdown” in vertebrates

20.08.2018 | Life Sciences

Metamolds: Molding a mold

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>