NASA's Cassini mission data is still helping scientists understand the rings of Saturn

Cassini was in space for 20 years and has provided information that scientists are still studying and understanding.

Cassini-Huygens was a dual mission that was sent to Saturn. It was launched in 1997 and was active until 2017 when it burned up in Saturn's atmosphere. However, in the 13 years that it was active, it has provided scientists with loads of information. They are still studying it and publishing papers based on their understandings.

When Cassini moved closer to Saturn in its final year, it observed intricate details on the rings of Saturn. The findings have been published in three papers in the journal Science.

The more that scientists are looking into the rings, the more they see. "The new observations give scientists an even more intimate view of the rings than they had before, and each examination reveals new complexities," said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Saturn’s rings were named in the order they were discovered. What is more interesting is that there are tiny moons embedded in Saturn’s rings and they interact with the particles around them.

 NASAs Cassini mission data is still helping scientists understand the rings of  Saturn

This false-color image to the right shows an infrared spectral map of Saturn's A, B and C rings, captured by Cassini's VIMS. Infrared image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/CNRS/LPG-Nantes Saturn image credit: NASA

The outer-most ring, F-ring, was formed by impacts that struck the ring at the same time. The ring is formed by objects that orbit Saturn and they are not just debris that just crashed into the ring and stayed there.

Another observation made was that there is a lot of texture in the belts. In an interview with, Spilker said, "What's fascinating is as we got ever closer, we just saw more and more structure in the rings.” They are clumpy, smooth and streaky. They have patterns and pop out of the images.

The reason they formed this way is not clear and Spilker wants to revisit Saturn in the future so that they can get answers to all their questions.

All the observations that Cassini provided are still helping scientists understand Saturn, its rings, and moons but also the solar system on the whole.

Cassini's dive into the atmosphere was intentional. It was running out of fuel and the scientists managing the probe decided to take the plunge while gathering as much information as possible. It sent information about Saturn's atmosphere as it fell. The probe was handled by three agencies — NASA, European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency as well as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Caltech, USA.

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