An incredible 1,200-mile-wide vortex of spiraling clouds swirling above Saturn’s north pole is seen in all its glory in this stunning image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, originally captured last year but recently released by NASA on April 29.
Taking advantage of a new orbital trajectory that puts it high above Saturn’s rings and poles, Cassini acquired the near-infrared images used to make this composite back on Nov. 27, 2012. The resulting image is false color — our eyes aren’t sensitive to those particular wavelengths of light — but still no less amazing!
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided the first direct evidence of small meteoroids breaking into streams of rubble and crashing into Saturn’s rings.
These observations make Saturn’s rings the only location besides Earth, the Moon and Jupiter where meteor impacts have been observed as they occur. The meteoroids at Saturn are estimated to range from about one-half inch to several yards (1 centimeter to several meters) in size.
“These new results imply the current-day impact rates for small particles at Saturn are about the same as those at Earth — two very different neighborhoods in our solar system — and this is exciting to see,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It took Saturn’s rings acting like a giant meteoroid detector — 100 times the surface area of the Earth — and Cassini’s long-term tour of the Saturn system to address this question.”
Maybe something like THIS:
What a great combination: Daphnis (my favorite moon) and an artist’s interpretation of what it might look like to see it whiz past as it travels around Saturn inside the Keeler Gap, sending up waves in the rings as it goes! The image is by Erik Svensson, who came across my recent article on Universe Today and was reminded of an illustration he’d made a year ago.
After contacting me about it, I felt Erik’s work definitely belonged in the article as well as here on Lights in the Dark!
A rain of ionized water molecules falls into Saturn’s upper atmosphere from its rings, researchers from England’s University of Leicester have found. Using images from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft and more recent near-infrared observations from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, it has been found that dark bands seen across Saturn are actually the “rain shadows” of particles from the rings interacting with the planet’s atmosphere, effectively cooling it and reducing heat emissions in those areas.
“Saturn is the first planet to show significant interaction between its atmosphere and ring system,” said James O’Donoghue, the paper’s lead author and a postgraduate researcher at Leicester. “The main effect of ring rain is that it acts to ‘quench’ the ionosphere of Saturn. In other words, this rain severely reduces the electron densities in regions in which it falls.”
Thanks to Cassini we’ve known about the jets of icy brine spraying from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus for about 8 years now, but this week it was revealed at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference outside Houston, Texas that Enceladus’ jets very likely reach all the way down to the sea — a salty subsurface sea of liquid water that’s thought to lie beneath nearly 10 kilometers of ice.
“To touch the jets of Enceladus is to touch the most accessible salty, organic-rich, extraterrestrial body of water and, hence, habitable zone, in our solar system.”
– Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco
This is a color composite image of Rhea (pronounced REE-ah) I made from raw images acquired by the Cassini spacecraft on March 9, 2013, during its most recent — and final — close pass of the moon. The visible-light colors of Rhea’s frozen surface have been oversaturated to make them more apparent… even so, it’s still a very monochromatic place.
Bored by blue? Saturn’s skies sure do have a lot more colors, as seen here in a color-somposite made from raw Cassini images acquired on Feb. 27, 2013.
With spring progressing on Saturn’s northern hemisphere (a season that takes 7 1/2 Earth years to pass!) the upper latitudes gradually receive more sunlight and thus more solar energy, warming the planet’s atmosphere and driving the upper-level winds and storms.