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 Saturns 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 Saturns 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.
Larry Esposito | EurekAlert!
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