Moonlets shadow

cassini_m

Do you want to see discovery as it happens?

And how YOU can make the difference?

Run to the unmannedspaceflight forum where one of its members has spotted the shadow of, not one, not two but thousands of moonlets in one of Saturn’s rings.

Great catch Floyd!

 

[EDITED] Beyond the Cradle most recent collaborator, Sarah Milkovich, Cassini Science Planning Engineer, provided us with some context for the current situation:

 

Currently, we are approaching Saturn’s equinox.  Like the Earth, Saturn’s spin axis is tilted, so as Saturn moves through its orbit, the sun shines on different portions of the planet.  The sunlight is in the process of moving from the southern to the northern hemisphere, and at equinox it will cross the rings.  The sun will shine on the edge of the rings, casting a very thin shadow onto Saturn, and the rings themselves will be dark.

So right now, the sun is getting lower with respect to the rings, which means that the shadows cast by the moons are getting longer, (which you can see in these images and movies on the imaging team’ website), and if there’s enough vertical relief within the rings we can see shadows from that as well. All of this will allow us to see more of the structure and variations within the rings themselves.

We’re also going to be looking at how the changing illumination conditions (and therefore changing temperature distributions) affect the moons and the atmosphere of Saturn itself. We’ve already begun to see some changes in the color of Saturn’s northern hemisphere – this is a mosaic of images taken in 2004, and you can see that the northern hemisphere (where it isn’t covered in shadows from the rings) is blue.  Compare that to this image taken in 2008, and you can see how the northern hemisphere is more golden, with a hint of blue at the pole. 

The Saturnian equinox will occur in August, so expect to see more changes in the future!

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