Saturn's 'weird' magnetic field perplexes scientists

Geronimo Vena
Luglio 25, 2017

"Cassini is performing beautifully in the final leg of its long journey", Earl Maize, a Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in the statement.

The sophisticated robotic spacecraft is now in the 15th of 22 weekly orbits that pass through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings.

New results from NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn are causing scientists to rethink their understanding of magnetic fields after observations revealed that the one belonging to the planet has no discernable tilt. The image was taken using the spacecraft's red, green and ultraviolet spectral filters on July 16, 2017, at 777,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) from Saturn.

Before that, however, scientists hope the orbits will solve mysteries regarding the mass of Saturn's rings and the planet's rotation rate. It may be that the tilt is somehow masked by an element in Saturn's atmosphere, they said.

The researchers also will be able to combine data about the pull of Saturn's gravity with readings from Cassini's magnetometer, which documenting the planet's magnetic field, to help discern the structure of its interior. The tilt observed is apparently much smaller than this.

Saturn boffins are baffled and frustrated by this phenomenon because it means precise measurement of the length of the Saturnian day continues to elude us.

Bright bands called "plateaus" in Saturn's C ring seem to have a streaky texture that's different from those of the surrounding regions. The last five orbits will dip down to take samples of Saturn's upper atmosphere. During its first ring dive, the spacecraft encountered nearly no dust and debris, but it was able to measure what little was there using its Cosmic Dust Analyzer instrument.

Plateau P5 is located 52,700 miles (84,800 km) from Saturn's center, and long streaks of material shoot through it.

The soon-to-die Cassini probe has captured tiny fragments of Saturn's rings.

The space probe, now undergoing the final phase of its mission, known as the Grand Finale, has made some startling observations of the planet as it makes its unprecedented series of weekly dives between Saturn and its rings. For instance, that scrutiny has revealed odd bright bands, called plateaus, in Saturn's C ring. The spacecraft has also caught detailed views of the planet's swirling clouds. The spacecraft began its finale on 26 April and will continue its dives until 15 September, when it will make a mission-ending plunge into Saturn's atmosphere.

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