Cassini Encore

TheLord of the Rings seems to have a depth of amazing mysteries which seems deeper and deeper as we delve into his innermost secrets and a treasure trove of some of the most exciting discoveries in the solar system, true to his nature shani as he is popularly known seems more and more intruiging as his ringed exterior is revealing more of the amazing realities and anomalies of space.

Since its launch on the 15th of october 1997, Cassini, named after the discoverer of Saturn has beeen undertaking a varied but well charted path to the ringed planet having an asteroid fly-by, nip at jupiter and has now settled down to saturn’s orbit. Now as Cassini discovers more and more of saturn’s atmosphere and importantly the most earth like Titan, which scientists speculate is more liek how early earth should have been at formation, which will be explored by the Huygens probe, to be honest Titan is possibly the most exciting rock after Earth and Europa from the sun as far as the SETI is concerned, but it is also a tryst with organic chemistry containing patchy methane clouds float several miles above the icy ground. In places, large, slow-moving droplets of methane mixed with other liquid organics fall to the surface in cold but gentle rains, cutting gullies, forming rivers and cataracts, carving canyons, and filling basins, craters and other surface depressions.

The most exciting and recent discovery however is concerned with Saturn’s rings.
A few days ago, the spacecraft carried us far from the planet and deep within its shadow, completely blocking out the direct rays of the sun. Shaded by the planet, we can peer closer to the sun — a geometry known as `high phase’ — than our instruments can usually tolerate. From this viewpoint, the tiny particles of water ice that populate certain regions around Saturn brighten substantially, just like the dust on your car’s windshield becomes very obvious as you drive into the sun. This is the process of diffraction, and scientists utilize this consequence of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with small particles to locate and map those locales in circum-Saturnian space where small particles are being created by a variety of processes.
The new images obtained from within Saturn’s shadow together span more than a million kilometers end to end — out past the orbit of Rhea — and clearly show the known diffuse rings, notably the G and E rings. Each is made of ice particles so small that they preferentially reflect only the smallest wavelengths and hence appear blue. Our images also show several groups of spoke features, made of small ice grains, stretching across the middle of the main Saturnian rings. But this unique viewing perspective has shed light on a host of phenomena never seen before. We have discovered a well-defined diffuse ring coincident with the orbits of the co-orbital moons Janus and Epimetheus. This torus of fine particles, similar to those associated with other bodies throughout the solar system, is likely caused by meteoroid impacts onto Janus and Epimetheus that release small particles into Saturn orbit.

Even more startling are long tendrils of fine icy particles in the vicinity of Enceladus, extending tens of thousands of kilometers fore and aft of the moon. These are very likely the supply lanes of fine icy particles being ejected from the south polar geysers of Enceladus and into the E ring … planetary interchange in action.

Finally, as the probe looked back in the direction of the sun, it captured from across the depths of space our own planet, a pale blue orb, seen amidst the pageantry and colorful splendor of Saturn’s rings. Nothing has greater power to alter our perception of ourselves and our place in the cosmos than the sight of Earth from faraway places. In the end, this ever-widening view of our own little planet against the immensity of space is perhaps the greatest legacy of all our interplanetary travels.

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