Fallen Cassini’s Data Still Showering Scientists With Stunning Findings About Saturnian Rings

Mindy Sparks
October 8, 2018

Scientists analysed data obtained with the automatic interplanetary station Cassini and found that Saturn absorbs your ring.

Cassini ultimately sacrificed itself to the planet, making a heroic dive towards Saturn's upper atmosphere causing it to be incinerated by the intense friction. Ring rain is extremely polluted with organic material and alternative molecules and pounds Saturn at thousands of kilograms per second. This discovery suggests some unknown process is grinding up particles. With this suicide maneuver during which the probe passed on the inside of the rings, NASA wanted to prevent Cassini from shattering on one of Saturn's moons, thereby contaminating it with traces of life from Earth.

In fact, another recent study using Cassini data indicates that Saturn's rings are only about between 150 and 300 million years old, and may not last forever, especially if they are constantly losing material to the planet below.

This wasn't the only finding from Cassini's Grand Finale released recently.

Saturn is even more interconnected to its rings than scientists previously knew. "Was there a time when Saturn didn't have rings?"

Other finds include a new radiation belt around Saturn, confirmation that Saturn's magnetic field is nearly completely aligned with its spin axis, and direct samples of regions where radio emissions are generated. Some do indeed just tumble down, but others become caught up in the planet's magnetic field and are pulled into patterns that the researchers call "ring rain". The findings more than doubled the number of direct measurements of radio sources from the planet, one of the few non-terrestrial locations where scientists have been able to study a radio-generation mechanism that is believed to operate throughout the universe.

"Almost everything going on in that region turned out to be a surprise. And the expedition really paid off-the data is tremendously exciting".


This is hardly the last we'll hear of Cassini, however, as the probe sent back so much data that researchers will still be sifting through it for years to come.

"Many mysteries remain, as we put together pieces of the puzzle", says Linda Spilker, Cassini Project Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"D-Ring dust falling into Saturn's equatorial ionosphere and upper atmosphere", by Donald Mitchell, et.al. Lead author Hsiang-Wen (Sean) Hsu from CU Boulder said.

"The low frequency source of Saturn's Kilometric Radiation (SKR)", by Laurent Lamy, et.al.

In its final days, Cassini spacecraft dove through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings multiple times. a space less than 1,200 miles wide.

Six separate reports were published Thursday in the journal Science, alongside complementary articles posted online in the American Geophysical Union's journal Geophysical Research Letters. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the USA and several European countries.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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