A “Mini Jet” Juts from Saturn’s F Ring

by Jason Major on September 17, 2013

A bright "mini-jet" spotted in Saturn's F ring

A bright “mini jet” spotted in Saturn’s F ring

We all know that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has a whole arsenal of geysers jetting a constant spray of ice out into orbit (and if you didn’t know, learn about it here) but Enceladus isn’t the only place in the Saturnian system where jets can be found — there are some miniature versions hiding out in the thin F ring as well!

Watch the 50-mile-wide Prometheus dip into the F ring (CLICK TO PLAY) NASA/JPL/SSI. Animation by J. Major.

Watch the 50-mile-wide Prometheus dip into the F ring (CLICK TO PLAY) NASA/JPL/SSI. Animation by J. Major.

The image above, captured by the Cassini spacecraft on June 20, 2013, shows a segment of the thin, ropy F ring that encircles Saturn just beyond the A ring (visible at upper right). The bright barb near the center is what scientists call a mini jet, thought to be caused by small objects getting dragged through the ring material as a result of repeated passings by the shepherd moon Prometheus.

Coincidentally, it’s gravitational perturbations by Prometheus that help form the objects — half-mile-wide snowball-like clusters of icy ring particles — in the first place.

Unlike the dramatic jets on Enceladus, which are powered by tidal stresses that flex the moon’s crust, these mini jets are much more subtle and occur at the casual rate of 4 mph (2 meters/second)… about the speed of a brisk walk.

The reflective jets themselves can be anywhere from 25 to 112 miles (40 to 180 kilometers) long.

See more images of mini jets — also called “classic trails” — below:

Various images of mini jets captured by Cassini from 2005 to 2008.

Various images of mini jets captured by Cassini from 2005 to 2008.

Over 500 of these features have been imaged by Cassini since 2005. Read more about mini jets here.

(And don’t worry, Enceladus… these little jets are interesting but they have nothing on you!)

Source: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS (CICLOPS)

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/QMUL. 

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

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