Saturn’s Ring Shows A Twist In Cassini’s Glimpse Of Planet

by Elizabeth Howell on February 11, 2014

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Saturn's F ring appears distorted in this October 2013 picture from the Cassini spacecraft. The twisting may be because the F ring is crashing repeatedly into a "single small object", NASA stated. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s F ring appears distorted in this October 2013 picture from the Cassini spacecraft. The twisting may be because the F ring is crashing repeatedly into a “single small object”, NASA stated. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

What’s up with this distortion? This picture from the Cassini spacecraft shows some kind of twist happening in the F ring of Saturn. Scientists in fact have seen other strange shapes in this delicate ring, indicating that something is disturbing it from time to time.

“Saturn’s F ring often appears to do things other rings don’t. In this Cassini spacecraft image, a strand of ring appears to separate from the core of the ring as if pulled apart by mysterious forces. Some ring scientists believe that this feature may be due to repeated collisions between the F ring and a single small object,” NASA stated this month.

There’s a debate in the scientific community about where the rings arose in the first place. “It’s been going back and forth for ages and it still goes back and forth. Are they old, or have they been there a long period of time? Are they new? I don’t know what to think, to be quite honest. I’m not being wishy-washy, I just don’t know what to think anymore,” Kevin Grazier, a planetary scientist with the Cassini mission for over 15 years, told Universe Today in December.

While this picture dates from October, you can check out Cassini images as they come in to NASA’s raw image database. Even in unprocessed form, the planet and its rings look beautiful — as you can clearly see in samples below.

The bulk of Saturn looms to the side of this shot of Saturn's rings taken in February 2014 by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The bulk of Saturn looms to the side of this shot of Saturn’s rings taken in February 2014 by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The variety of Saturn's rings is visible in this raw shot from the Cassini spacecraft taken in February 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The variety of Saturn’s rings is visible in this raw shot from the Cassini spacecraft taken in February 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Although Saturn's rings look solid and substantial in images such as this, they are made up of many tiny, icy objects collecting as thin as 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) deep.  Image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in February 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Although Saturn’s rings look solid and substantial in images such as this, they are made up of many tiny, icy objects collecting as thin as 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) deep. Image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in February 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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