May 22, 2007
Cassini Probes Saturn's Icy Rings
BY PATRICK PETERSON
Saturn's largest ring is made of churning clumps of icy particles that break up and reform, according to new findings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
The study said Saturn's B ring is "clumpy and dynamic," made of sheets of dirty water ice ranging from the size of a marble to the size of a boulder. As the ring spins around the planet, these particles form and reform into sheets, some 100 to 150 feet across.
"The particles are sort of jostling along," said Josh Colwell, assistant professor of physics at the
A professor in UCF's growing planetary sciences program, Colwell led the study. Additionally, the study revealed that the rings have two to three times as much material as scientists thought.
"There's been an evolving view of Saturn's rings," he said. "It's been really turned upside down since Cassini got there."
The observations were made using the spectrograph aboard the Cassini spacecraft, launched in 1997 to study Saturn, its rings and moons. Scientists made the discovery by watching the brightness of a star change as the rings passed in front of the star.
Saturn is a giant ball of gas with no surface. The study will help scientists determine the age of Saturn's rings and understand how they were formed.
The findings will be published in the journal Icarus.