See super-detailed images of Saturn’s rings

Textures and patterns, from clumpy to straw-like, pop out of these images from the Cassini mission. “It’s like turning the power up a notch on what we could see in the rings,” said a scientist.

Smooth gray stripes of various widths running lower left to upper right.

New images of Saturn’s rings show how adjacent rings, even those in very close proximity, may have different textures. Note the straw-like textures and clumps. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

The wonderful Cassini mission to Saturn – which ended in 2017 – just keeps on giving. This month (June 13, 2019), scientists released new, incredibly detailed images of Saturn’s rings, captured as Cassini was just above the planet’s cloudtops at the end of its mission, prior to its dramatic plunge into the clouds and depths of Saturn. Cassini scientists said these images give them an even more intimate view of the rings than before. They said each examination reveals new complexities. Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said:

It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings. Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on. Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalizing ones remain.

Thin gray and brown horizontal stripes with one wavy band.

A false-color image mosaic shows Daphnis, one of Saturn’s ring-embedded moons, and the waves it kicks up. Read more about this image. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

A new paper published on June 13 in the peer-reviewed journal Science describes results from four Cassini instruments’ closest-ever observations of the main rings.

Findings include fine details of features sculpted by masses embedded within the rings. Textures and patterns, from clumpy to straw-like, pop out of the images, raising questions about the interactions that shaped them. New maps reveal how colors, chemistry and temperature change across the rings.

Read more about the study.

According to the research, tiny moons embedded in Saturn’s rings (named A through G, in order of their discovery) interact with the particles around them. Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute, is the study lead author. Tiscareno said in a statement:

These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in various ways provide a window into solar system formation, where you also have disks evolving under the influence of masses embedded within them.

The close-up ring images brought into focus three distinct textures – clumpy, smooth and streaky – and made it clear that these textures occur in belts with sharp boundaries. But why? In many places the belts aren’t connected to any ring characteristics that scientists have yet identified. Tiscareno said:

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.

Ball with rings around it. At right, a closeup of a section of the rings.

This false-color image to the right shows an infrared spectral map of Saturn’s A, B and C rings. The new spectral map also sheds light on the composition of the rings. While scientists already knew that water ice is the main component, the spectral map ruled out detectable ammonia ice and methane ice as ingredients. But it also doesn’t see organic compounds – a surprise, given the organic material Cassini has discovered flowing from the D ring into Saturn’s atmosphere. More about this image. Image via NASA/JPL.

The data analyzed were gathered during the Cassini spacecraft’s Ring Grazing Orbits (December 2016 to April 2017) and the Grand Finale (April to September 2017). As the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team deliberately plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017.

Bottom line: Detailed images of Saturn’s rings from the Cassini spacecraft.

Source: Close-range remote sensing of Saturn’s rings during Cassini’s ring-grazing orbits and Grand Finale

Via NASA

Eleanor Imster