Saturns Rings Viewed as Never before... Sept 17, 2006 23:29:32 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Sept 17, 2006 23:29:32 GMT -6
Rings of Saturn To Shine As Never Seen Before
"NASA's Voyager 2 discovered a vast and complex new system of ringlets around Uranus this way, using only one single image taken in several minutes. We'll have 10 straight hours," Wallis says.
Ring scientists have been waiting for this. Finally, after more than two years orbiting Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft
The event is a solar occultation -- when the sun passes directly behind the planet as Cassini looks on. And this is not just any solar occultation; it's a very long one.
The Cassini spacecraft will be right where scientists studying the rings want it: far enough from Saturn to be able to image it all and, more importantly, with the Sun blocked by the planet for 12 hours, long enough to properly map the elusive microscopic particles moving within the extended ring system.
Data collected during this observation might also uncover clues about Enceladus' past behavior and aid mission planners in refining ring hazard models for future ring crossings. Thanks to the slow occultation, images taken during this carefully designed orbit may also uncover new ring structures and, at the very least, capture truly spectacular views of the D, F, G and E rings.
"We are all sort of on pins and needles waiting for the results," says Brad Wallis, Cassini Rings Discipline Scientist. "When you get these kinds of high phase angles, very small particles almost focus the light right at the observer. So these faint rings that are so hard to see are going to be considerably brighter and show us details that are just not possible to see in other viewing conditions. All the space between Enceladus and the G ring is probably going to be pretty well lit up. It's really a unique event."