Dynamic spike-like structures along the edges of Saturn’s rings are caused by oscillations of material that mimics the behavior of our entire galaxy…in other words, Saturn’s rings are a miniature version of the Milky Way!
Along the outer edge of the dense B ring Cassini mission scientists have observed ring particles rising above the ringplane in jagged peaks almost two miles high. These are thought to be caused by patterns of waves that travel across the entire ring system and are affected by the different densities of the ring regions, where denser areas – like the edge of the B ring – amplify the waves and cause the icy particles to respond dramatically in turn. View a movie of these oscillations in action.
This behavior is believed to be exhibited by much larger structures like galaxies and stellar material disks but have not been directly observed. This was the first time it’s been witnessed in such a large scale structure.
“We have found what we hoped we’d find when we set out on this journey with Cassini nearly 13 years ago: visibility into the mechanisms that have sculpted not only Saturn’s rings, but celestial disks of a far grander scale, from solar systems, like our own, all the way to the giant spiral galaxies.”
– Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader
The stunning image above was taken by the Cassini spacecraft two weeks before Saturn’s spring equinox in August 2009. Sunlight hitting the rings nearly edge-on made any vertical relief visible by means of dramatically-cast shadows.
Image: NASA / JPL / SSI.