Posted tagged ‘Saturn’

NASA Photos Reveal First-Ever View of Liquid on Saturn’s Titan

December 21, 2009

Light reflecting off of Titan's Lake. Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/DLR

NASA’s Cassini probe has captured the first-ever images of sunlight reflecting off of liquid on the northern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan.  The existence of liquid hydrocarbon lakes on Titan, the largest moon of the planet Saturn, were known to exist previously, but this is the first visual confirmation.

Spitzer Space Telescope Used To Find Saturn’s New Ring

October 8, 2009
Artist's conception of the new ring.  The inset shows an enlarged image of Saturn, as seen by the W.M. Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in infrared light.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Keck

Artist's conception of the new ring. The inset shows an enlarged image of Saturn, as seen by the W.M. Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in infrared light. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Keck

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope discovered a new ring around Saturn.  The ring is too diffuse to reflect sunlight and cannot be seen with the naked eye.  The particles that compose the ring are visible using infrared light, light that Spitzer can see.  The newly discovered ring, which is associated with the moon Phoebe, stretches roughly 12.5 million kilometers from Saturn, if not further.  For comparison, the outer bound of Saturn’s next largest known ring, the E ring, is less than half a million kilometers from Saturn.  For more information, see Discovery.

Saturn Moonlet Discovered

August 21, 2009
Cassini B Ring moonlet. Credit: NASA/JPL

Cassini B Ring moonlet. Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has discovered a a new moonlet in Saturn’s B Ring.  Because of Saturn’s equinox, Cassini was able to discover this small moon, which is only 1,300 feet in diameter.  But, due to the angle of the sun on Saturn’s rings, this little moonlet is casting a shadow that is 25 miles long.   For more information on this discovery, see ScienceDaily.

Saturn’s F Ring Pierced

August 19, 2009
Puncture in Saturn's F Ring.  Image credit:  NASA

Puncture in Saturn's F Ring. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

A new image taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captures an unusual event.  The image indicates that Saturn’s F Ring was pierced by an unknown object which drug particles from the ring in its wake creating an angled structure on the ring.  This puncture is visible due to Saturn’s equinox and the changing angle of the sun striking its rings.  Simply, the change allows for a more 3-D view of Saturn’s rings.  For more information, see National Geographic News.

Equinox for Saturn Today

August 11, 2009
Image credit:  NASA

Image credit: NASA

Today, Saturn experiences its equinox, an event that occurs every 15 years.  With a complete orbit of the sun taking 29.7 years, an equinox for Saturn is a rare event.  What is most interesting is what happens to Saturn’s rings as a result:  they “disappear”.  With the equator directly in line with sunlight, the rings are not tipped and, instead, the edge faces the sun.  Because the rings are are so thin, only approximately 30 feet thick, they disappear to viewers on Earth.  Galileo Galilei was the first to observe this phenomena in the 17th century.  For more information on the equinox, see ScienceDaily.

Could Saturn’s Enceladus Hide an Ocean?

June 26, 2009
Icy plumes on Enceladus in a 2005 image from the Cassini spacecraft.  Image credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Icy plumes on Enceladus in a 2005 image from the Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Saturn’s moon Enceladus was the focus of attention in 2005 when astronomers detected jets of ice and gas spraying out from the moon’s icy surface.  Since then scientists have been investigating the possibility that liquid oceans beneath the moon’s frozen surface might be source of the spray.  If Enceladus has liquid water, this would increase the likelihood that it also hosts extraterrestrial microbes.

This week Nature published two new studies that offer very different conclusions regarding the possibility of oceans on Enceladus.  Both studies looked for sodium near Enceladus, a sign that would point toward liquid water.  One study found sodium, but the other did not.

Although researchers were unable to discover an definitive answer, they may be able to uncover more data from the Cassini spacecraft.  Having completed its original four-year mission in June 2008, NASA is extending the  orbiter’s stay around Saturn for the new Cassini Equinox Mission, which is scheduled to last through September 2010.  For more information on the two Enceladus studies, see ScienceNews.

Run! Hide! Cannibal Planets!

March 18, 2009

jupiterAccording to Dr. Robin Canup of the Southwest Research Institute and her colleagues, the four giant “Galilean” moons orbiting Jupiter are the only survivors of what the KAMS Blog likes to think of as a “moon massacre.”  Earlier in the history of the solar system, there were as many as 20 moons orbiting Jupiter, but these moons were “eaten” by the planet.   Canup also speculates that something similar could have happened in the case of Saturn.  For further information, see here.