Although Mars and comets have taken the spotlight recently, we shouldn’t forget the ongoing missions around the second largest planet in the system.
The Cassini mission has release some new, and amazing images of Saturn and that glorious ring system it has.
By taking photos with the Sun in the correct position and the rings edge on, the shadows on the lower part of Saturn are a magnified version of the rings. This shows the complexity of the rings and details never seen before.
Saturn even has it’s own ‘Great Storm’, although it isn’t nearly as large as neighboring Jupiter’s storm.
In the lower right and left corners of the two images above, you can see two of Saturn’s many, many moons. Because some are hiding in the rings, it isn’t really known how many moons Saturn has. Officially, the count is 61, versus 66 for Jupiter. However, I believe that the moons traveling in the rings would push Saturn ahead of Jupiter. Alas, many of these ‘moons’ for both gas giants are asteroids and comets caught while passing to close to the gravity wells of each planet.
This image, from my favorite geek comic, XKCD, all rights reserved to the author, I am only pointing out how great his stuff is, no infringement is implied…etc., etc., etc (legally falling on my sword)(I’ll take it down if you ask, but hey, its free publicity). You should really check it out. But this is the best and simplest explanation of gravity wells without getting into too much math and the general theory of relativity. If you think Jupiter’s is big you ought to Google the Sun’s or a black hole’s gravity well. That will blow your mind.
Anyway, back to Saturn. Cassini has been out orbiting Saturn almost a decade since leaving Earth in 1997. The spacecraft’s life expectancy is until 2017. The amount of interesting data from Saturn is unprecedented for a mission this old and as far away as Saturn is from Earth.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +, or by email.