NASA’s spacecraft, Cassini, has revealed even more intricate details on the rings around Saturn. The craft’s mission ended two years ago but NASA is still collating data on the planet. This latest revelations shows new temperatures, colors and textures within the planet’s complex ring system.
In Science magazine, a new paper shows how the rings interact with the particles around them, leading scientists to conclude that the rings are part of the processes that directly impact upon our solar system.
Cassini was able to identify fine details such as patterns and texture which varied in appearance and structure. Cassini’s close-up images have shown that there are 3 distinct textures present in the rings – clumpy, streaky and smooth areas – that happen with sharp boundaries and are not necessarily connected to any specific characteristics already identified within the rings.
It has also provided maps showing changes in chemistry, temperature and color that exist across Saturn’s rings. The data was collected initially between December 2016 and April 2017, names by NASA as the Ring Grazing Orbits (December 2016 to April 2017) and between April to September 2017, the Grand Finale of the mission.
Clues about the ring’s origins
Cassini’s observations have allowed NASA scientists to conclude that the outer edge of the ring systems were likely to have been hit at the same time leading to the similarly generated streaks that can be seen in the F ring. It is likely, therefore, that the rings was not shaped by comets or other space debris at random, but instead by the materials that circle the planet.
The otter mystery found by Cassini was discovered as a result of the visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) detecting weak water-ice bands. Scientists were surprised to see this in the A ring’s vicinity. The reflective nature of this water could indicate the presence of less contaminated ice and water bands.
Spectral imaging has also given a great insight into the composition of the rings. As well as water which was already known, scientists have discovered that there was no ammonia or methane ice. However, no organic compounds were seen.
The science team have been excited to establish new information about what was going on in the rings but as each question is answered more arise, making the Cassini project one to watch in the months and years to come.