Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sticking up out of the rings

Did you know Saturn was beautiful and inspiring? If you didn't, then take a close look at this picture:


Do you want to know what that stuff is? That's Saturn's ring material jutting upward from the plane of the rings themselves. Jutting almost two miles out from the rings, that is.

Alan Boyle explains:
In addition to the self-excited oscillations, Cassini's scientists noticed disturbances in two regions on the B ring's outer edge, including spiky vertical structures that rise as much as 1.6 miles (3.5 kilometers) above the ring plane. One of the perturbed regions, measuring 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) in length, can be seen rolling around the edge of the B ring about halfway through this video clip.

The two disturbed areas -- known as Region A and Region B -- are not thought to be caused by the natural oscillations or by a previously known pattern linked to Mimas. Instead, the best explanation is that the regions contain moonlets measuring as much as a half-mile (1 kilometer) wide, or even wider.

Besides the Mars rovers, that Cassini spacecraft has got to be the best return for the investment our space program has produced to date. It sure gives our scientists a lot to look at and discover.

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