Saturns Rings Come With Their Own Atmosphere | Aero-News Network
Aero-News Network
RSS icon RSS feed
podcast icon MP3 podcast
Subscribe Aero-News e-mail Newsletter Subscribe

** Airborne 04.23.14--CLICK HERE! ** HD iPad-Friendly Version--Airborne 04.23.14 **
** Airborne 04.21.14--CLICK HERE! ** HD iPad-Friendly Version--Airborne 04.21.14 **
** Airborne 04.18.14--CLICK HERE! ** HD iPad-Friendly Version--Airborne 04.18.14 **

Sat, Aug 20, 2005

Saturns Rings Come With Their Own Atmosphere

Cassini Data Says It's Separate From Saturn's Own Atmosphere

Data from the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft indicate that Saturn's majestic ring system has its own atmosphere -- separate from that of the planet itself. During its close fly-bys of the ring system, instruments on Cassini have been able to determine that the environment around the rings is like an atmosphere, composed principally of molecular oxygen.  This atmosphere is very similar to that of Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede, according to scientists.

The finding was made by two instruments on Cassini: the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) has co-investigators from USA and Germany, and the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) instrument has co-investigators from US, Finland, Hungary, France, Norway and UK.

Saturn's rings consist largely of water ice mixed with smaller amounts of dust and rocky matter. They are extraordinarily thin: though they are 250,000 kilometres or more in diameter they are no more than 1.5 kilometres thick.

Despite their impressive appearance, there is very little material in the rings - if the rings were compressed into a single body it would be no more than 100 kilometres across.

The origin of the rings is unknown. Scientists once thought that the rings were formed at the same time as the planets, coalescing out of swirling clouds of interstellar gas 4000 million years ago. However, the rings now appear to be young, perhaps only hundreds of millions of years old.

Another theory suggests that a comet flew too close to Saturn and was broken up by tidal forces. Possibly one of Saturn's moons was struck by an asteroid smashing it to pieces that now form the rings.

Though Saturn may have had rings since it formed, the ring system is not stable and must be regenerated by ongoing processes, probably the break-up of larger satellites.

Water molecules are first driven off the ring particles by solar ultraviolet light. They are then split into hydrogen, and molecular and atomic oxygen, by photodissocation. The hydrogen gas is lost to space, the atomic oxygen and any remaining water are frozen back into the ring material due to the low temperatures, and this leaves behind a concentration of oxygen molecules.

Dr Andrew Coates, co-investigator for CAPS, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) at University College London, said: "As water comes off the rings, it is split by sunlight; the resulting hydrogen and atomic oxygen are then lost, leaving molecular oxygen.

"The INMS sees the neutral oxygen gas, CAPS sees molecular oxygen ions and an ‘electron view’ of the rings. These represent the ionised products of that oxygen and some additional electrons driven off the rings by sunlight."

Dr Coates said the ring atmosphere was probably kept in check by gravitational forces and a balance between loss of material from the ring system and a re-supply of material from the ring particles.

Last month, Cassini-Huygens mission scientists celebrated the spacecraft's first year in orbit around Saturn. Cassini performed its Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) on July 1, 2004 after its six-year journey to the ringed planet, travelling over three thousand million kilometers. 

FMI: www.saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm

Advertisement

More News

Luftwaffe Ju 52 Discovered On The Bottom Of The Black Sea

Plane Disappeared 67 Years Ago On Transport Mission To The Eastern Front A plane missing since 1942 has been discovered in about 75 feet of water in the Black Sea has been identifi>[...]

AD: British Aerospace Regional Aircraft Airplanes

AD NUMBER: 2014-07-09 PRODUCT: British Aerospace Regional Aircraft Jetstream Series 3101 and Jetstream Model 3201 airplanes.>[...]

AD: Airbus Airplanes

AD NUMBER: 2014-08-04 PRODUCT: Certain Airbus Model A310 series airplanes.>[...]

ANN's Daily Aero-Linx (04.24.14)

South Bay Soaring Society The South Bay Soaring Society (SBSS) is a non-profit radio controlled glider club based in San Jose, CA. They have flying sites in San Jose, Santa Clara, >[...]

ANN's Daily Aero-Term (04.24.14): Dew Point (Abbrev. DWPT)

A measure of atmospheric moisture. It is the temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation (assuming air pressure and moisture content are constant).>[...]

blog comments powered by Disqus



Advertisement

Advertisement

Podcasts

Advertisement

© 2007 - 2014 Web Development & Design by Pauli Systems, LC