Advertisements

Ring King

 

Newly discovered ring around Saturn

Newly discovered ring around Saturn

The bright band in this image is a cross-section of a massive new ring discovered around Saturn, a cold, diffuse and incredibly thick band of material orbiting the planet 3.7 million miles out…..much farther out than any of the other rings and farther away even than most of Saturn’s moons.

The ring is so thick, 20 Saturns could be stacked top to bottom in its vertical height.

Effectively invisible due to its diffuse nature and low reflectivity in the dim light at Saturn’s distance from the sun, the ring was discovered by the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is sensitive to infrared light emitted by heat. Although cold – minus 316º F  – the ring particles still emit enough heat to be detectable by Spitzer’s sensitive instruments.

“The particles are so far apart that if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn’t even know it.”

– Anne Verbiscer, astronomer at the University of Virginia

Saturn’s moon Phoebe orbits within this newly-discovered disc. The dark, battered moon, orbiting Saturn in a retrograde orbit, is most likely a captured object from the outer depths of the solar system. Collisions between it and ill-fated comets over the millennia may be the source of this ring’s material.

Iapetus

Iapetus

It’s also suspected that this ring may also be the cause of the mysterious dark coating over one-half of Iapetus’ surface. Scientists have been hypothesizing about the reason behind the moon’s two-toned coloration for decades. It’s now looking like it may be the result of dark material from this hazy ring being drawn into nearby Iapetus’ orbit and striking the leading side of the moon. 

Iapetus orbits Saturn in a more common prograde direction, as opposed to both Phoebe and the new ring. The material would strike it from the opposite direction, like “bugs on a windshield”.

The discovery of this huge ring was made last May, before the Spitzer telescope ran out of its coolant.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Virginia

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

About Jason Major

Jason is a Rhode Island-based graphic designer, photographer, nature lover, space exploration fanatic, and coffee addict. In no particular order.

Posted on October 7, 2009, in News, Saturn and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

Have an opinion about this? Leave a comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: