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Click here for Linda Moulton Howe's 2017 Bio.

Not Much Dust Between Saturn and Its Nearest Ring

© 2017 by Linda Moulton Howe

 

“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before.
We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn's
other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like.
I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned
and has come out the other side in excellent shape.”

- Earl Maize, Cassini Project Manager, NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

 


This unprocessed image shows features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer
than ever before. The view was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during
its first of 22 dives between the innermost ring and the gaseous planet on
April 26, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

 

May 4, 2017 Pasadena, California - On April 26th, 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took a 70,000 miles per hour nose dive into the gap between the planet Saturn and its nearest thin ring of micron-sized dust. No Earth craft had ever flown between the innermost ring and Saturn itself. 


Illustration of NASA's Cassini spacecraft after 20 years in service making its first 70,000 mph
dive between the innermost ring and the big, gaseous planet with the hexagonal
north pole storm. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, were listening to Cassini’s radio and plasma instrument, expecting to hear radio waves bounce off dust. Back in December 2016, when Cassini passed through a thin Saturn ring, the dust impacts numbered in the hundreds per second.


Illustration of NASA's Cassini spacecraft diving between the innermost ring
and the big, gaseous planet. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

But to everyone’s surprise on April 26th, there were only a few clicks and pops, similar to what dust sounds like on a Long Play vinyl record. The principal investigator for Cassini’s radio and plasma technology, Earl Maize, Ph.D., at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said the few sounds picked up were “likely oscillations of charged particles in the upper part of Saturn’s ionosphere where atoms are broken apart by solar and cosmic radiation.” 

During Cassini’s second dive on Tuesday, May 2nd, the cosmic dust analyzer made the first direct analysis of the ring dust that were smaller particles than what radio waves detected on the first dive.  Cassini is also making magnetic measurements to see if the length of a Saturn day can be determined. That is still a mystery because Saturn’s thick clouds hide how quickly the gaseous planet rotates.

Over the next four months, Cassini will make 22 dives in all between Saturn and the innermost ring. Then on its last dive in September 2017, Cassini will go straight into the big gaseous planet. That will give Earth scientists some final data as Cassini ends its 20-year-life as an exploratory Earth spacecraft.


Between April 26, 2017 and September 15, 2017, Cassini will make twenty-two dives between
Saturn and the innermost ring, sending back valuable data to NASA/JPL before its
final death dive on September 15, 2017, the end of the 20-year-long Cassini mission.

This April 12, 201, image provided by NASA shows the tiny white dot of our Earth behind the rings of Saturn, captured by the Cassini spacecraft, 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from Earth. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Cassini's fuel tank is almost empty, so NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale. Cassini image by NASA/JPL.

Also see:

• 03/27/2015 — What Heats the Bottom of the Enceladus Moon's Ocean to 194 Degrees Fahrenheit?
• 03/12/2015 — Saturn's Moon Enceladus Might Have Warm Ocean Water Up to 194 Degrees Fahrenheit
• 04/30/2008 — 5-Month-Long Lightning Storm On Saturn
• 03/30/2008 — Enceladus Water Geyers Full of Organic Chemicals
• 02/13/2008 — Saturn's Titan Moon Has Greater Oil Reserves Than Earth


For further information about Saturn, its rings and moons, please see reports in the Earthfiles Archive organized in chronological order from 1999 to 2017 ongoing of which a few are listed here.

• 01/27/2017 — Search Ongoing for 9th Planet, So Massive It Tilts Solar System Planets 6 Degrees
• 03/27/2015 — What Heats the Bottom of the Enceladus Moon's Ocean to 194 Degrees Fahrenheit?
• 03/12/2015 — Saturn's Moon Enceladus Might Have Warm Ocean Water Up to 194 Degrees Fahrenheit
• 04/30/2008 — 5-Month-Long Lightning Storm On Saturn
• 03/30/2008 — Enceladus Water Geyers Full of Organic Chemicals
• 02/13/2008 — Saturn's Titan Moon Has Greater Oil Reserves Than Earth
• 06/20/2007 — Update: What Is the Moving Light in Saturn's Rings? Answer: Opposition Effect
• 01/06/2007 — Liquid Methane Lakes on Saturn's Titan Moon
• 07/25/2006 — Giant Hydrocarbon Lakes Found On Saturn Moon, Titan
• 05/05/2006 — Saturn's Titan Moon Has Puzzling Dunes
• 10/19/2005 — Saturn's Icy Moon, Dione, Up Close
• 05/06/2005 — What Are The Straight Lines on Saturn's Titan Moon?
• 02/17/2005 — Iapetus and Enceladus: Baffling Moons of Saturn
• 01/22/2005 — Titan - A Moon Where It Rains Methane Into Seas and Soils of Hydrocarbons
• 01/14/2005 — Updated - Cassini/Huygen's First Look At Titan's Surface
• 11/25/2004 — Closest Look At Mysterious Titan from Cassini Spacecraft
• 06/11/2004 — Cassini Spacecraft Will Rendezvous with Saturn July 1, 2004


Websites:

NASA/JPL - "Cassini's Daring Mission Finale Between the Rings and Saturn":
https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2017/4/25/a-moment-you-wont-want-to-miss-cassinis-daring-mission-finale-between-the-rings-and-saturn/

Cassini Grand Finale Videos by NASA/JPL: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/videos/

"Cassini Finds 'The Big Empty' Close to Saturn, May 2, 2017, Phys.org:
https://phys.org/news/2017-05-cassini-big-saturn.html

Saturn's North Pole Hexagon In Motion:
https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/science/saturn/hexagon-in-motion/


 

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