Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cassini Opens A Cosmic Time Capsule

Date:
June 25, 2004
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Like a woolly mammoth trapped in Arctic ice, Saturn's small moon Phoebe may be a frozen artifact of a bygone era, some four billion years ago. The finding is suggested by new data from the Cassini spacecraft.

This colorful graphic illustrates that despite Phoebe's bumpy, irregular topography, the moon has a fairly round shape. A digitally rendered shape model of Phoebe was constructed using Cassini imaging data obtained before and after the spacecraft's close flyby of the Saturnian moon on June 11, 2004.
Credit: Image NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Like a woolly mammoth trapped in Arctic ice, Saturn's small moon Phoebe may be a frozen artifact of a bygone era, some four billion years ago. The finding is suggested by new data from the Cassini spacecraft.

Cassini scientists reviewed data from the spacecraft's June 11, 2004, flyby of the diminutive moon. They concluded Phoebe is likely a primordial mixture of ice, rock and carbon-containing compounds similar in many ways to material seen in Pluto and Neptune's moon Triton. Scientists believe bodies like Phoebe were plentiful in the outer reaches of the solar system about four and a half billion years ago.

These icy planetesimals (small bodies) formed the building blocks of the outer solar system and some were incorporated into the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. During this process, gravitational interactions ejected much of this material to distant orbits, joining a native population of similar bodies to form the Kuiper Belt.

"Phoebe apparently stayed behind, trapped in orbit about the young Saturn, waiting eons for its secrets to be revealed during its rendezvous with the Cassini spacecraft," said Dr. Torrence Johnson, Cassini imaging team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"All our evidence leads us to conclude, Phoebe's surface is made of water ice, water-bearing minerals, carbon dioxide, possible clays and primitive organic chemicals in patches at different locations on the surface," said Dr. Roger N. Clark, team member for the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. "We also see spectral signatures of materials we have not yet identified." Cassini's observations gave scientists the first detailed look at one of these primitive icy planetesimals.

Phoebe's mass was determined from precise tracking of the spacecraft and optical navigation, combined with an accurate volume estimate from images. The measurements yield a density of about 1.6 grams per cubic centimeter (100 pounds per cubic foot), much lighter than most rocks, but heavier than pure ice at approximately 0.93 grams per cubic centimeter (58 pounds per cubic foot). This suggests a composition of ice and rock similar to Pluto and Triton.

Spectral measurements, light intensity as a function of color or wavelength, confirmed the presence of water ice previously detected by Earth-based telescopes. The measurements provided evidence for hydrated minerals on Phoebe's surface, and detected carbon dioxide and solid hydrocarbons similar to those found in primitive meteorites.

"One intriguing result is the discovery of possible chemical similarities between the materials on Phoebe and those seen on comets," said Dr. Robert H. Brown, team leader for the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, University of Arizona, Tucson. Evidence that Phoebe might be chemically kin to comets strengthens the case that it is similar to Kuiper Belt Objects.

Measurements taken by the composite infrared spectrometer were used to generate temperature maps. The maps show the surface of Phoebe is very cold, only about 110 degrees above absolute zero (minus 163 degrees Celsius, or minus 261 degrees Fahrenheit). Even colder nighttime temperatures suggest a fluffy, porous surface layer.

"One of the first results from this map is the surface of Phoebe has been badly chewed up, probably by meteorite impacts," said Dr. John Pearl, a Cassini co-investigator for the composite infrared spectrometer, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "We are discovering Phoebe is a very complex object, with large variations in topography."

Cassini also made radar observations of Phoebe's enigmatic surface, making it the first spacecraft radar observations of an outer-planet moon. The results are consistent with the dirty, rocky, icy surface suggested by other observations.

"We have conducted our first analysis of an outer solar system resident akin to Kuiper Belt Objects," said Dr. Dennis Matson, project scientist of the Cassini-Huygens mission at JPL. "In two short weeks, we have added more to what we know about Phoebe than we had learned about it since it was discovered 100 years ago. We did this by having multiple instruments conducting investigations all at one time during our flyby."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington. For the latest images and more information about the mission on the Internet, visit http://www.nasa.gov and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini Opens A Cosmic Time Capsule." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040625083127.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2004, June 25). Cassini Opens A Cosmic Time Capsule. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040625083127.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini Opens A Cosmic Time Capsule." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040625083127.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins