Astronomers have been graced with new data, thanks to the demise of the NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Its final moments saw if descent between Saturn’s ring and surface, needing 22 orbits around the planet until it could not function any longer due to the atmospheric conditions. The data recovered during this part of the mission revealed that small moon-like objects have a role in shaping the rings around the planet. Cassini revealed that the rings that encircle Saturn are much younger and they did not form along with their host.
Scientists are quite pleased with the new information they were able to gather about the rings. But although they have higher resolution images on them, they have much work studying and answering the questions this data has provided. These last images from the Cassini probe show that the rings have features within them with the shapes of straw and clumps as well as patterns that are produced by so-called shepherd moons.
Cassini offered enough information to form maps of the rings based on color, temperature, and chemistry. Some of the questions are already starting to be answered, shedding light on things happening in the outermost main ring of Saturn. This F ring has signaled some streaks caused by various impacts. This provides evidence of active objects that can impact with multiple degrees of force and influence — not just a multitude of static rocks.
NASA’s Cassini space probe’s data revealed additional details on Saturn’s rings
The shepherd moon named Daphnis has been one of the objects of study. From the Cassini data, scientists have designated the pocket of space it operated in as the Keeler gap, and it was revealed that the object had left a lane of shattered ring material in its path. However, not all that can be seen is understood, as scientists are baffled on why the rings exhibit certain features.
Matt Tiscareno, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, says: “This tells us the way the rings look is not just a function of how much material there is. There has to be something different about the characteristics of the particles, perhaps affecting what happens when two ring particles collide and bounce off each other. And we don’t yet know what it is.”
Still, another curious morsel has been discovered from Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, concerning the A ring. Much to everybody’s surprise, the highly reflective nature in this region could very well signal the presence of heavy water ice of the highest purity. Astronomers are very positive as they are progressing to the next phase of their study, building detailed models of the rings and their evolution, two years after the end of the Cassini mission. Their research has been published in Science Magazine.