Scientists stunned by discovery near Saturn

Scientists stunned by discovery near Saturn

An incredible new find by NASA's Cassini spacecraft could have major implications for how we understand Saturn and its rings.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has just revealed something amazing near Saturn: the clearest ever shots of its rings, which could totally alter our understand of them. The NASA probe snapped pictures of the moon Daphnis, and then conducted a “ring-grazing” pass of Saturn’s outer rings, providing a close-up angle of them.

It’s Cassini’s last hurrah after two decades in operation. Cassini’s view of Daphnis, which is nestled between Saturn’s rings in what is known as teh Keeler Gap, showed that the band was five times wider than the moon. And the pictures of certain features on Daphnis themselves suggest that ring particles may pile up on the moon itself like dust collecting on a car.

Cassini first launched from Earth back in 1997 as a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, and after it is done exploring Saturn and its rings, the probe will end its career on Sept. 15 when it plunges into the gas giant.

“We’re calling this phase of the mission Cassini’s Ring-Grazing Orbits, because we’ll be skimming past the outer edge of the rings,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “In addition, we have two instruments that can sample particles and gases as we cross the ringplane, so in a sense Cassini is also ‘grazing’ on the rings.”

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