New information has emerged from the final orbits carried out by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft that is hovering around the rings of planet Saturn to provide data of this hitherto unexplored region between the planet and its mysterious rings. Research details gleaned from the spacecraft are busting some preconceived ideas about the region while throwing up new questions about its existence. Details of the Cassini’s findings are being published in Science journal by six teams of researchers since 5 October under the headline of the spacecraft’s “Grand Finale” when it finally ran out of fuel.
Cassini’s direct sampling of the region shows that complex organic matter rain down from Saturn’s rings while particles in its inner rings develop electrical charges to travel on magnetic-field lines; it has an electric-current system and radiation belt; the spacecraft also made a close measurement of Saturn’s sub-zero magnetic-field tilt. When the team realized that the Cassini is nearly out of fuel, they steered it as close to Saturn as possible within 22 orbits to gather detailed information before it vaporized and plunged into atmosphere in September 2017.
The team maneuvered Cassini to a region it was not designed to fly in, namely, the Saturn’s magnetized environment and probe through icy rocky ring particles while sniffing the atmosphere within 2,000 kilometer radius shrouded within clouds and rings. Some of the findings of this last trip of Cassini are Presence of water, silicates, methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide within the rings. Varied organic compounds exist within its moons Enceladus and Titan; so, there are three distinct organic molecular reservoirs within Saturn’s system. Cassini saw for the first time in human history about how the planet’s external rings interact with the planet and witnessed inner ring particles and gases falling directly into its atmosphere. Also,Cassini revealed that an unknown electric current connects the rings to the top of this planet’s atmosphere.