Cassini Making First Ring Grazing Pass

This week he Cassini spacecraft will zip past the outer rings of Saturn, gathering very close up imagery of this region for the first time. If all goes as planned, there will be 30 orbits, before Cassini is steered into a final dive into the atmosphere to end the mission.

Earlier this week the mission released some images that show Saturn from the rarely seen angle. The images portray the strangely hexagonal jet stream at the North pole.

this collage of images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn's northern hemisphere and rings as viewed with four different spectral filters. Each filter is sensitive to different wavelengths of light and reveals clouds and hazes at different altitudes. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia21053/saturnian-hexagon-collage
this collage of images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn’s northern hemisphere and rings as viewed with four different spectral filters. Each filter is sensitive to different wavelengths of light and reveals clouds and hazes at different altitudes. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia21053/saturnian-hexagon-collage

This weird looking phenomenon has been observed for several decades (i.e., it is really there and it is pretty stable), and, as far as I can tell, isn’t clearly understood. Presumably, the pattern results from the rotating winds in Saturn’s giant atmosphere, but just how it might come about is still being debated.

Anyway, let’s stay tuned for some close ups of the rings—surely one of the most spectacular tourist attractions in our solar system!

(PS.  Wouldn’t “First Ring Grazing Plunge” be a great name for a band? )

 

Space Saturday

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