The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Monster New Ring Around Saturn

Saturn is famous for its rings which are one of the best sites to view through a small telescope.  As the years have gone on, we kept discovering new rings.  Surely there couldn’t be more discoveries now…I mean, we have spacecraft there and stuff, right?

Wrong…the Spitzer Space Telescope just discovered a very large, diffuse new ring around Saturn.  This ring is over 3.7 million miles from the planet and extends outward another 7.4 million miles. It’s also very thick…over a million miles from top to bottom.  For comparison, the rings you see in a telescope are only a hundred feet thick or so.

Of course this ring is very large and diffuse.  The density of it is much lower than the other rings, so low that we have had spacecraft fly through this ring unharmed. It is not visible to normal telescopes, but cool objects give off infrared light making it the perfect target for the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Here is an artist conception of the ring.  Saturn is way too small to see at this scale, a mere dot at the middle.

This ring is orbiting Saturn in the opposite direction of the other rings…so is the nearby Moon Phoebe.  This leads to us to believe that Phoebe may be the source of material for the ring.  And it solves a second mystery of the moon Iapetus.  Iapetus is dark on one side and light on the other.  It orbits inside this new ring in the opposite direction.  Material from this ring appears to be spiraling in toward Saturn and coating one side of Iapetus giving rise to its unusual appearance.

Unfortunately, Spitzer ran out of coolant in May.  These observations were made before the coolant ran out.  Observations such as this illustrate the importance of observing in all parts of the EM spectrum.

October 7, 2009 - Posted by | NASA, Solar System

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: