(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists at the Southwestern Research Institute have collected 41 observations of a solar eclipse of Saturn’s rings taken by the Cassini mission.
The collection, published recently in the journal Icarus, will serve as the basis for future studies of the particle size distribution and composition of Saturn’s rings.
“For nearly two decades, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been sharing the wonders of Saturn and its family of icy moons and characteristic rings, but we still don’t know exactly why the ring system originated,” said Dr. Stephanie Jarmak, SwRI space science researcher.
“The data indicate that the rings are relatively young and could have formed as a result of the destruction of an icy moon or comet.
However, in order to support any one theory of origin, we need to have an idea of the size of the particles that make up the rings.”
The Cassini Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVIS) was sensitive to some of the smallest ring particles, especially in the extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.
To determine the size of the ring particles, UVIS observed the rings in what is known as solar occultation.
The ring particles partially obstructed the path of light, providing a direct measurement of the optical thickness, a key parameter for determining the size and composition of the ring particles.
“Given the wavelength of light coming from the Sun, these observations gave us an idea of the smallest particle sizes in Saturn’s rings,” Jarmak said.
“UVIS can detect dust particles at the micron level, helping us understand the origin, collision activity, and destruction of ring particles within a system.”
“Ring systems around giant planets are also testbeds for studying fundamental physical properties and processes in the solar system as a whole,” added Jarmak.
“These particles are believed to come from the collision of objects, the formation of a disk, and the formation of larger particles. Understanding how they form ring systems will allow us to understand how planets form.”
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