Space

Cassini image captures phantom rings

Saturn's rings appear to criss-cross themselves in a new Cassini image
Saturn's rings appear to criss-cross themselves in a new Cassini image
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Saturn's rings appear to criss-cross themselves in a new Cassini image
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Saturn's rings appear to criss-cross themselves in a new Cassini image
Saturn's rings are imaged edge-on in this Cassini shot taken in November 2014
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Saturn's rings are imaged edge-on in this Cassini shot taken in November 2014
Saturn and her rings as seen in December 2014 by the Cassini spacecraft
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Saturn and her rings as seen in December 2014 by the Cassini spacecraft
Cassini image highlighting the varying sizes and opacity of Saturn's ring system
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Cassini image highlighting the varying sizes and opacity of Saturn's ring system
Saturn's rings as captured by the Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera in June 2015
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Saturn's rings as captured by the Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera in June 2015
The Sun's illumination lingers over Saturn's north pole as ghostly, partially-lit rings streak accross her surface
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The Sun's illumination lingers over Saturn's north pole as ghostly, partially-lit rings streak accross her surface
Image of Saturn's rings as seen by Cassini's narrow-angle camera in April 2016
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Image of Saturn's rings as seen by Cassini's narrow-angle camera in April 2016

NASA's Cassinispacecraft has captured a stunning, and seemingly impossible view ofSaturn's iconic ring system intersecting with a second set of phantomrings. The image was snapped using the probe's narrow-angle camera onFeb. 11, 2016.

Whilst a number of theplanets that make up our solar system boast minor ring systems oftheir own, none can compare with the majesty of Saturn's adornment.Since arriving in Saturn's orbit in 2004, the Cassini has sent back aregular stream of images of the gas giant's rings, and has performeddetailed analysis that has allowed us to unravel many secretsregarding the rings formation history, as well as its present-day characteristics.

For example, thanks toCassini data, astronomers have observed that some of the gaps inSaturn's rings can be attributed to the formation of socalled "shepherd moons." These satellite bodiesformed from the ring material, and maintain the gaps with theircontinued presence.

In the image at the top of the page, theshepherd moon Pan was captured from a distance of 1.2 million miles(1.9 million km), appearing as a tiny spec of white in the center ofthe image, as it maintained a divide in Saturn's A ring.

The appearance of asecond phantom ring is of course nothing more than an illusion. Whatyou are actually seeing is the sunlight side of Saturn's ring systemintersecting with its shadow, which is cast on the surface of the gasgiant below. The planet's rings vary significantly in opacity fromsection to section, allowing the shadow to be easily observed throughthe delicate structures.

Saturn's rings are imaged edge-on in this Cassini shot taken in November 2014
Saturn's rings are imaged edge-on in this Cassini shot taken in November 2014

Such a scene can beseen in a wider context in the image above. Here, Saturn's rings andtheir distinctive shadow can be observed playing across the disk ofthe planet.

Source: NASA

2 comments
BorisSikar
It is a pitiful shows how astrophysicists are hiding their ignorance regarding the nature of Saturn’s and other planets rings. In articles or in a text books they always substitute discussion of the ring’s nature by the speculations about these rings formation history. And that happened because of such a scientist’s arrogance. They ashamed to admit that the whole astrophysical paradigm they are operating within has a wrong base.
James Oss
Perhaps they are caused by gravity waves passing thru the Saturn system?