Cassini scientists studying Saturn's rings have made several new findings that further our knowledge of how this beautiful and dynamic system continues to evolve before our eyes.
"Understanding the dynamics of Saturn's rings provides on a miniature scale a better understanding of how our solar system formed from a disk of particles surrounding the Sun," said Dr. Jeff Cuzzi, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Among their biggest surprise is that a spiral ring encircles the planet like a spring. This unexpected "spiral arm" feature exists in the vicinity of the F ring and actually crosses the F ring's orbit.
"It is very possible that the spiral is a consequence of moons crossing the F ring and spreading particles around," said Dr. Sebastien Charnoz, imaging team associate at the University of Paris. "The F ring might be a very unstable or even a short-lived structure."
These ring results were acquired over the summer as Cassini was in a favorable ring-viewing period after the spacecraft's orbit was raised to look down on the rings. These and other results were presented in a press briefing at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting held this week in Cambridge, England.
More information on the Cassini-Huygens mission is available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.