Scientists discover new ring and other features at Saturn

September 19, 2006

Saturn sports a new ring in an image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sunday, Sept. 17, during a one-of-a-kind observation.

Other spectacular sights captured by Cassini's cameras include wispy fingers of icy material stretching out tens of thousands of kilometers from the active moon, Enceladus, and a cameo color appearance by planet Earth.

The images were obtained during the longest solar occultation of Cassini's four-year mission. During a solar occultation, the sun passes directly behind Saturn, and Cassini lies in the shadow of Saturn while the rings are brilliantly backlit. Usually, an occultation lasts only about an hour, but this time it was a 12-hour marathon.

Sunday's occultation allowed Cassini to map the presence of microscopic particles that are not normally visible across the ring system. As a result, Cassini saw the entire inner Saturnian system in a new light.

The new ring is a tenuous feature, visible outside the brighter main rings of Saturn and inside the G and E rings, and coincides with the orbits of Saturn's moons Janus and Epimetheus. Scientists expected that meteoroid impacts on Janus and Epimetheus might kick particles off the moons' surfaces and inject them into Saturn orbit, but they were surprised that a well-defined ring structure exists at this location.

Saturn's extensive, diffuse E ring, the outermost ring, had previously been imaged one small section at a time. The 12-hour marathon enabled scientists to see the entire structure in one view. The moon Enceladus is seen sweeping through the E ring, extending wispy, fingerlike projections into the ring. These very likely consist of tiny ice particles being ejected from Enceladus' south polar geysers, and entering the E-ring.

"Both the new ring and the unexpected structures in the E ring should provide us with important insights into how moons can both release small particles and sculpt their local environments," said Matt Hedman, a research associate working with team member Joseph Burns, an expert in diffuse rings, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

In the latest observations, scientists once again see the bright ghost-like spokes--transient, dusty, radial structures--streaking across the middle of Saturn's main rings.

Capping off the new batch of observations, Cassini cast its powerful eyes in our direction and captured Earth, a pale blue orb, and a faint suggestion of our moon. Not since NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft saw Earth as a pale blue dot from beyond the orbit of Neptune has Earth been imaged in color from the outer solar system.

"Nothing has greater power to alter our perspective of ourselves and our place in the cosmos than these images of Earth we collect from faraway places like Saturn," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. Porco was one of the Voyager imaging scientists involved in taking the Voyager 'Pale Blue Dot' image. "In the end, the ever-widening view of our own little planet against the immensity of space is perhaps the greatest legacy of all our interplanetary travels."

In the coming weeks, several science teams will analyze data collected by Cassini's other instruments during this rare occultation event. The data will help scientists better understand the relationship between the rings and moons, and will give mission planners a clearer picture of ring hazards to avoid during future ring crossings.
-end-
Images of the new ring, the E-ring, Enceladus, and Earth are available at: http://ciclops.org, http://www.nasa.gov/cassini, and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team consists of scientists from the U.S., England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team leader (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS)

Related Saturn Articles from Brightsurf:

Where were Jupiter and Saturn born?
New work reveals the likely original locations of Saturn and Jupiter.

Hubble sees summertime on Saturn
Saturn is truly the lord of the rings in this latest snapshot from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, taken on July 4, 2020, when the opulent giant world was 839 million miles from Earth.

Discovered a multilayer haze system on Saturn's Hexagon
The most extensive system of haze layers ever observed in the solar system have been discovered and characterised on the planet Saturn.

What makes Saturn's atmosphere so hot
New analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft found that electric currents, triggered by interactions between solar winds and charged particles from Saturn's moons, spark the auroras and heat the planet's upper atmosphere.

New SwRI models reveal inner complexity of Saturn moon
A Southwest Research Institute team developed a new geochemical model that reveals that carbon dioxide (CO2) from within Enceladus, an ocean-harboring moon of Saturn, may be controlled by chemical reactions at its seafloor.

Saturn surpasses Jupiter after the discovery of 20 new moons
Move over Jupiter; Saturn is the new moon king. A team led by Carnegie's Scott S.

New SwRI study argues that Saturn's rings are actually not young
No one knows for certain when Saturn's iconic rings formed, but a new study co-authored by a Southwest Research Institute scientist suggests that they are much older than some scientists think.

Hubble reveals latest portrait of Saturn
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on 20 June 2019 as the planet made its closest approach to Earth this year, at approximately 1.36 billion kilometres away.

Saturn's rings shine in Hubble's latest portrait
Saturn is so beautiful that astronomers cannot resist using the Hubble Space Telescope to take yearly snapshots of the ringed world when it is at its closest distance to Earth.

Saturn's moon Mimas, a snowplough in the planet's rings
The Solar System's second largest planet both in mass and size, Saturn is best known for its rings.

Read More: Saturn News and Saturn Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.