Saturn Rings Surprisingly Unstable, Violent
Cassini spacecraft sees rapid rearrangements, colliding moonlets, and an oxygen atmosphere.
The most detailed imagery of the rings yet is giving a very different and dynamic feel to the orbiting bands of ice chunks, according to two new studies in this week's issue of the journal Science.
By imaging the rings close up, in many wavelengths, and with unprecedented frequency, NASA's Cassini orbiter has revealed a slew of surprises. Among them are rings that rapidly rearrange themselves, high-speed collisions—not to mention an oxygen atmosphere.
(See Saturn pictures.)
"Here's this giant crystalline structure, stretching two-thirds of the distance from Earth to the moon, and yet parts of it change on a monthly or weekly time scale," said planetary scientist Jeff Cuzzi, from NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.