Images of Saturn's Rings Reveal Clues to Their Origins
In its final year, the Cassini space probe dove into the space between Saturn and its rings.
Now, data sent back to Earth has been analyzed and new discoveries have been made about the iconic rings that surround the planet.
Space clusters and moon interactions
Before Cassini's images reached us, Saturn's rings were thought to be smooth. It has now been revealed that they actually have a grainy texture.
Researchers believe that tiny moons that form a part of the rings cause space debris to cluster around their gravitational orbits. This changes their shape, creating clumps and complex patterns that were not previously visible.
Scientists recently discovered that Saturn's "ravioli-like" moons were partially shaped by Saturn's rings.
The new images have revealed that the reverse is also true. The moons interact with the surrounding materials that make up the ring, causing these interesting patterns shown in the images.
Insights into planet formation
The new information reveals insights into how Saturn's rings formed, but it also tells us more about the nature of the universe.
“These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in various ways provide a window into solar system formation, where you also have disks evolving under the influence of masses embedded within them,” lead author and Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute, said in a NASA statement.
In other words, these new images are providing insights into the way space materials revolve around gravitational orbits and gradually come together to form planets.
And the insights will keep coming. The probe's mission ended almost two years ago, however, there is so much data to analyze that scientists will be pouring over it for a long time.
"We see so much more, and closer up, and we're getting new and more interesting puzzles," said Jeff Cuzzi NASA astronomer.
"We are just settling into the next phase, which is building new, detailed models of ring evolution - including the new revelation from Cassini data that the rings are much younger than Saturn."
Cassini took the images over a total of 22 orbits before going into a "death dive" towards the planet. Almost two years later, scientists are still making discoveries from its final images.
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