Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Saturn's Giant Sponge: One Of Saturn's Rings Does The Housecleaning

Date:
February 17, 2008
Source:
National Aeronautics And Space Administration
Summary:
One of Saturn's rings does housecleaning, soaking up material gushing from the fountains on Saturn's tiny ice moon Enceladus, according to new observations from the Cassini spacecraft. This is the latest surprising phenomenon associated with the ice geysers of Enceladus to be discovered or confirmed by Cassini scientists. Earlier, the geysers were found to be responsible for the content of the E-ring. Next, the whole magnetic environment of Saturn was found to be weighed down by the material spewing from Enceladus, which becomes plasma -- a gas of electrically charged particles. Now, Cassini scientists confirm that the plasma, which creates a donut-shaped cloud around Saturn, is being snatched by Saturn's A-ring, which acts like a giant sponge where the plasma is absorbed.

This is a false-color image of jets (blue areas) in the southern hemisphere of Enceladus taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2005. It has been processed to reveal the individual jets that comprise the plume.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

One of Saturn's rings does housecleaning, soaking up material gushing from the fountains on Saturn's tiny ice moon Enceladus, according to new observations from the Cassini spacecraft.

"Saturn's A-ring and Enceladus are separated by 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles), yet there’s a physical connection between the two," says Dr. William Farrell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Prior to Cassini, it was believed that the two bodies were separate and distinct entities, but Cassini’s unique observations indicate that Enceladus is actually delivering a portion of its mass directly to the outer edge of the A-ring." Farrell is lead author of a paper on this discovery that appeared in Geophysical Research Letters January 23.

This is the latest surprising phenomenon associated with the ice geysers of Enceladus to be discovered or confirmed by Cassini scientists. Earlier, the geysers were found to be responsible for the content of the E-ring. Next, the whole magnetic environment of Saturn was found to be weighed down by the material spewing from Enceladus, which becomes plasma -- a gas of electrically charged particles. Now, Cassini scientists confirm that the plasma, which creates a donut-shaped cloud around Saturn, is being snatched by Saturn’s A-ring, which acts like a giant sponge where the plasma is absorbed.

Shot from Enceladus’ interior, the gas particles become electrically charged (ionized) by sunlight and collisions with other atoms and electrons. Once electrically charged, the particles feel magnetic force and are swept into the space around Saturn dominated by the planet's powerful magnetic field. There, they are trapped by Saturn’s magnetic field lines, bouncing back and forth from pole-to-pole. The fun ends, however, if their bouncing path carries them inward toward Saturn to the A-ring. There they stick, in essence becoming part of the ring. "Once they get to the outer A-ring, they are stuck," says Farrell.

"This is an example of how Saturn’s rings mitigate the overall radiation environment around the planet, sponging up low- and high-energy particles," says Farrell. By contrast, Jupiter has no dense rings to soak up high-energy particles, so that planet’s extremely high radiation environment persists.

The Cassini observations confirm a prediction by Dr. John Richardson and Dr. Slobodan Jurac of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the early 1990’s, Hubble Space Telescope observations revealed the presence of a large body of water-related molecules in orbit about 240,000 km (almost 150,000 miles) from the planet. Richardson and Jurac modeled this water cloud and demonstrated it could migrate inward to the A-ring. "We relied on their predictions to help us interpret our data," said Farrell. "They predicted it, and we were seeing it."

At the time of their prediction, the source of the water cloud was unknown. The source was not identified until 2005 when Cassini discovered the stunning geysers emitted from Enceladus.

Data for the discovery that Saturn's A-ring acts like a sponge were collected in July 2004 when Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn, making its closest flyby over the A-ring. "We skimmed over the top of that ring fairly close," said Farrell.

Hot spots on the inside wall of the plasma donut -- the part colliding with the A-ring -- were emitting radio signals. These signals behaved as a sort of natural radio beacon, indicating the local plasma density at the inner edge of the donut. The signals were detected by Cassini's Radio and Plasma Wave instrument. The team used these signals to monitor the density of the plasma (the higher the frequency, the greater the density) and hence witness the change in gas density with time.

"As we approached the A-ring, the frequency dropped, implying that the plasma density was going down because it was being absorbed by the ring," said Farrell. "What really drove this home was what happened to the signal when we passed over a gap in the rings, called the Cassini division. There, the frequency went higher, implying that the plasma density was going up because plasma was leaking through the gap."

The research was funded by NASA through the Cassini-Huygens project. Cassini-Huygens is an international collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "Saturn's Giant Sponge: One Of Saturn's Rings Does The Housecleaning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080212143619.htm>.
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. (2008, February 17). Saturn's Giant Sponge: One Of Saturn's Rings Does The Housecleaning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080212143619.htm
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "Saturn's Giant Sponge: One Of Saturn's Rings Does The Housecleaning." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080212143619.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft Captured by International Space Station

SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft Captured by International Space Station

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 20, 2014) SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft makes a scheduled Easter Sunday rendezvous with the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station

Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station

AP (Apr. 20, 2014) Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The SpaceX company's cargo ship, Dragon, spent two days chasing the International Space Station following its launch from Cape Canaveral. (April 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Hoax? Cosmetics Company Wants To Brighten The Moon

A Hoax? Cosmetics Company Wants To Brighten The Moon

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) FOREO, a Swedish cosmetics company, says it wants to brighten the moon to lower electricity costs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) On it's second attempt this week, The Space X company launched Friday from Cape Canaveral to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. (April 18) Video provided by AP
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