Cassini Spacecraft Captures Close-up View Of A Propeller In Saturn’s Outermost Ring

Posted: Apr 1 2017, 4:45pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Cassini Spacecraft Captures Close-up View of a Propeller in Saturn’s Outermost Ring
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This is the closest view of the propeller "Earhart" obtained yet

Saturn’s ringed system is filled with many unique structures. These structures are either triggered by the gravity of very small embedded objects or the clumping of particles.

In the latest image, Cassini spacecraft focuses on a propeller found in the Saturn’s outermost ring known as A ring. The propeller is informally named “Earhart” and it is the closest view of the propeller obtained yet.

Propellers are disturbances in the ring caused by a moonlet residing in the gap. These double-armed propellers were first discovered in 2006 in the middle of Saturn's A ring. The moonlet that produced the Earhart propeller on the ring is not visible in the image. It is either too small to distinguish from the ring material or may be covered by the material surrounding it.

“Earhart is situated very close to the 200-mile-wide (320-kilometer-wide) Encke Gap, which is held open by the much larger moon Pan. In this view, half of the Encke Gap is visible as the dark region at right.” NASA researchers wrote in the description of the image.

The image was taken with Cassini narrow-angle camera on March 22, 2017. The spacecraft was at the distance of 69,183 miles from the propeller feature when the image was captured. This is the second time Cassini has deliberately taken a close up view of an individual propeller during it ring-grazing orbit phase after the images of a propeller nicknamed Santos-Dumont in February 2017. The biggest known propeller named "Bleroit" will be the third and final propeller on Saturn rings systen to be closely approached by the Cassini in April 2017.

The latest image of Earhart propeller shows that its structure is very different from that of Santos-Dumont. However, the reason is not clear. To the right of the propeller are waves caused by the moons Pandora, Prometheus and Pan. The waves kick up as these moons orbit within their respective gaps.

Images like this provide researchers an eagerly awaited opportunity to observe propeller like features in a greater detail. These observations will enable them to understand the origin and evolution of unique features of Saturn as well as the complicated interactions between planet’s moons and its rings.

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