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NASA’s Cassini reveals new sculpting in Saturn’s rings

The beautiful planet, Saturn, popular for its complex rings was found to have more hidden details on intrinsic textures, colours and temperatures by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

The Cassini mission was concluded two years ago but the spacecraft’s trip to the ring planet is still transferring data to the planet about Saturn and its evolution through all these years. A paper which was published in the Science journal had followed four of the Cassini’s major instruments and observed the interaction between Saturn’s main rings and its tiny moons. Using the observational data of this, scientists have an elucidate picture of how Saturn’s rings are part of astrophysical disk processes that have been impacting the solar system.

Cassini also took into notice the fine details that were sculpted by masses within these rings. New maps that were released revealed how do chemical, colour, and temperature-related changes are, across the rings of Saturn.

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The observation made by the spacecraft enabled scientists to attain a better grasp of the complexity of Saturn. It enabled the scientists to hypothesize the outer edge of the main rings of the ringed planet are formed due to impacts of the celestial bodies hitting the ring. This information also tells us that the rings were also shaped by material streams that are known to circle the planet. The close-ups of the rings highlights that the textures happen in belts which possess sharp boundaries and these belts are not connected to any of the planet’s rings.

The way these rings look tells that there is some peculiar characteristic particles present that affect whatever takes place between any two rings. Another mystery uncovered by Cassini’s VIMS( Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer ) was that it detected unusually weak water-ice bands in the A ring’s outermost area. It was shocking to find the water-ice bands, because the vicinity is known to be very reflective, which could be a sign of less-contaminated ice and fortified water-ice bands.

The new spectral map that the scientists found also provided insights to the composition of the ring, confirming that ammonia ice and methane ice are not the contents but water ice is the major content of the planet’s rings. The drawback was that it could not spot any organic compounds.

According to the scientist of the Cassini project, Linda Spilker, it was like turning up the power by one more time to know what was inside the ring so that everyone could actually get to see it as an extra resolution which answered many questions but most tantalizing ones, however, remain.

About the author: Kalpit Veerwal
Kalpit Veerwal is a second year Computer Science undergraduate at IIT Bombay. He is well known for being the only person to score 360/360 in JEE (Main). He is registered in the Limca Book of Records for the same. A blogger in his free time, he has also secured top ranks in various exams held in India and the world.

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