That’s here; that’s home; that’s us. The image above shows what Earth looked like to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 13, 2017 as it flew past Saturn’s night-shadowed A and F rings. At the time the raw images were captured Saturn and Cassini were about 889.6 million miles (1.43 billion kilometers) from Earth. From that distance our entire world—and everyone on it—is just another tiny light in the dark.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured these images of a propeller in Saturn’s A ring on Feb. 21, 2017. These are the sharpest images ever taken of a propeller and reveal an unprecedented level of detail. This propeller is nicknamed “Santos-Dumont” after the Brazilian-French aviator who is hailed as the father of aviation in Brazil.
The February 2017 imaging was Cassini’s first targeted observation of a propeller. The two views show the same object from opposite sides of the rings. The top image looks toward the rings’ sunlit side, while the bottom image shows the unilluminated side, where sunlight filters through the backlit ring.
Propellers are the term given to small disturbances in Saturn’s rings caused by the gravitational influence of embedded moonlets. They are thematically nicknamed in honor of famous world aviators. The particularly large propeller Santos-Dumont is caused by an object a little over half a mile (1 km) across.
More than just being ring decorations, propellers are important to researchers because they mimic the behavior of objects in an orbiting debris field; they are sort of like miniature protoplanets inside a circumstellar disk. They were first spotted by Cassini in July 2004.
“Observing the motions of these disk-embedded objects provides a rare opportunity to gauge how the planets grew from, and interacted with, the disk of material surrounding the early sun,” said Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco in 2010. “It allows us a glimpse into how the solar system ended up looking the way it does.”
Read the rest of this story here: Cassini Targets a Propeller in Saturn’s A Ring
Like those fractal designs that were so popular in the ’90s Saturn’s rings reveal finer and finer structures the nearer Cassini gets, now in the final year of its mission. Recent images from the spacecraft, captured in December 2016, show groove-like density waves and skyscraper-sized clumps within the planet’s icy rings—and it’s just a hint at what we’ll be seeing over the next several months as Cassini passes closer and closer.
“These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn’s rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet,” said Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist who studies Saturn’s rings at the SETI Institute.
Read the rest of this story from NASA here: Close Views Show Saturn’s Rings in Unprecedented Detail
Hello, Daphnis! On January 16, 2017, the Cassini spacecraft captured the best photo yet of Daphnis, a 5-mile-wide shepherd moon that orbits Saturn inside the Keeler Gap at the outermost edge of the A ring (and also just so happens to be my personal favorite moon of Saturn!) The raw image arrived on Earth today, and it’s just beautiful.
After more than twelve years in orbit around Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is now in its final year of operation…and newly-positioned in an orbit that will send it soaring high over the planet’s north pole as well as close by the outer edge of its glorious shining rings.
Over the course of 20 week-long “ring-grazing orbits” — the first of which was completed on Dec. 4 — Cassini will obtain close-up images and data on the composition and structure of Saturn’s rings and nearby shepherd moons.
It’s the mission’s penultimate phase, heralding the end of Cassini in September 2017.
“This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn,” said Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco. “Let these images — and those to come — remind you that we’ve lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system’s most magnificent planet.”