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Saturn’s clouds run deep, rings may rain organics

6 April 2018 Stephen Clark

Saturn’s clouds have roots deeper inside the planet’s atmosphere than scientists previously thought, and Saturn’s rings — now believed to have formed in the last 200 million years — appear to be raining organic molecules down on the planet, according to observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last year in the final weeks of its mission.

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Cassini results still keeping scientists busy

19 October 2017 Stephen Clark

Scientists examining data from the Cassini mission’s final months reported this week unexpected measurements of Saturn’s gravity field and outer atmosphere, suggesting they may have to revisit theories about the planet’s rings and the forces that generate magnetic fields.

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Icy moon Mimas dwarfed by Saturn’s rings

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Saturn’s icy 246-mile-wide moon Mimas (near lower left) appears tiny by comparison to the planet’s rings, but scientists think the all of the small, icy particles spread over a vast area that comprise the rings are no more than a few times as massive as Mimas. The view was obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at a distance of approximately 564,000 miles from Saturn.

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Barely bisected rings

13 September 2016 Astronomy Now

Saturn’s shadow stretched beyond the edge of its rings for many years after the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft first arrived at Saturn, casting an ever-lengthening shadow that reached its maximum extent at the planet’s 2009 equinox. This image captured the moment in 2015 when the shrinking shadow just barely reached across the entire main ring system.

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Saturn’s seasonal shadows

9 August 2016 Astronomy Now

The shadow of Saturn’s globe on the rings, which stretched across all of the rings earlier in the Cassini spacecraft’s mission, now barely makes it past the Cassini Division. The changing length of the globe’s shadow marks the passing of the seasons on Saturn. As the planet nears its northern-hemisphere solstice in May 2017, the shadow will get even shorter.

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Pandemonium in Saturn’s rings

8 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Pan and moons like it have profound effects on Saturn’s rings. The effects can range from clearing gaps, to creating new ringlets, to raising vertical waves that rise above and below the ring plane. All of these effects, produced by gravity, are seen in this image from the Cassini probe.

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Moons of Saturn may be younger than the dinosaurs

25 March 2016 Astronomy Now

New research suggests that some of Saturn’s icy moons, as well as its famous rings, might be modern adornments. Their dramatic birth may have taken place a mere 100 million years ago. This would date the formation of the major moons of Saturn, with the exception of more distant Titan and Iapetus, to the relatively recent Cretaceous Period — the era of the dinosaurs.

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Ices and shadows at Saturn

20 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Saturn’s moon Tethys appears to float between two sets of rings in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, but it’s just a trick of geometry.