Cassini Provides Images of Saturn’s Rings

By  //  October 17, 2013

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Orbit Variation Creates Broader Images

ABOVE VIDEO: It’s one of the solar system’s most awe-inspiring features but yet it’s short-lived. Saturn’s rings are young, but in a few million years, that will have changed and its ring system will be more like Jupiter’s.

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – For NASA scientists and astronomers, the view doesn’t get any better than this.

The Cassini spacecraft was shifted into an orbit that allowed for spectacular views of Saturn’s rings. This view, from Cassini’s imaging camera, shows the outer A ring and the F ring. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

After moving into a new position after a span of two years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has sent back some spectacular views of Saturn’s mysterious rings.

The new sights have become possible when Cassini shifted its orbit angle of Saturn while passing above and below the planet’s equator.

Previous orbits had allowed scientists to obtain sharp images of Saturn’s vast polar caps, dazzling moons and atmosphere, but Cassini’s recent repositioning has delighted many with its new views of propeller-shaped gaps in the rings.

CASSINI ORBITING SATURN SINCE 2010

The rings gaps are formed by objects much smaller than known Saturn moons, but substantially greater than what has been thought to be ring particles.

SATURN-300-2Since 2010, the Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn in just about the same manner, so starting with a flyby of Saturn’s Titan moon in May, NASA engineers began to adjust and modify Cassini’s orbit to shake things up and examine various new views of the planetary system.

The May flyby of Titan actually modified Cassini’s position almost 16 degrees and a host of new planned flybys in the next year will reposition Cassini some 62 degrees in all.

This affords scientists an opportunity to observe Saturn from a variety of positions and obtain a better understanding of the ring system.

Many of Saturn’s rings appear within Saturn’s equatorial plane and from previous Cassini positions have been photographed by the spacecraft as thin lines when reviewed by astronomers in its old orbit.

These three Cassini images show a propeller-shaped structure created by an unseen moon in Saturn’s A ring. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Cornell.)

BROADER PICTURE OF RINGS

The positioning of Cassini allows a broader picture of the rings, and a more detailed look at individual ringlets.

This view will hopefully provide some answers about ring origin and formation and some of the new images are startling.

Cassini was launched on Oct. 15, 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the purpose of determining the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn, studying the moons and geological history of Saturn lunar surfaces, examining Saturn’s magnetosphere and looking into atmospheres of Saturn and its moon Titan.

Its current mission extends through 2017.


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