Nasa's Cassini finds empty space with very few particles in the region between Saturn and its rings

The Cassini spacecraft, in the final leg of its thirteen year long mission to Saturn, has thrown up a surprise from the first of its "Grand Finale" dives. The spacecraft has found that the region between Saturn and its innermost rings is surprisingly empty, and devoid of particles. By contrast, the regions just outside the reaches of the rings, were full of small particles that were detected during the ring grazing orbits.

The results are a delight to the Cassini engineers, as now the spacecraft can safely dive between Saturn and its innermost rings, without having to use its dish shaped communications antenna as a shield to protect the sensitive spacecraft from particles. Based on previous observations, scientists did not expect particles bigger than one micron in diameter, about the size of the particles that make up smoke. The scientists that specialise in studying the ring systems around planets are now puzzled by just how rare the particles are in the region between Saturn and its rings.

Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said, "The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently. Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected."

Cassini is preparing for its second "Grand Finale" dives. During the dive, the spacecraft will stop communicating with Earth, and observe the rings more closely, and will calibrate its magnetometer. Data from the second Grand Finale dive is expected by 3 May. The Cassini mission is a collaboration between Nasa, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Published Date: May 02, 2017 04:15 pm | Updated Date: May 02, 2017 04:15 pm