This incredibly close picture of a massive hurricane-like storm taken from just 1,900 miles away from Saturn's surface has been overshadowed by a new discovery about the planet's rings.
NASA scientists were absolutely floored by the latest data sent back by the Cassini spacecraft from Saturn, data that will cause them to totally rethink how they understand the gas giant’s mysterious rings. As Cassini took a dive through the gaps between the rings of the second-largest planet in our solar system, they expected to find some sort of particles or other matter, but instead they found absolutely nothing.
Cassini took two passes between the huge gaps between the rings of Saturn, but were amazed to find that there was absolutely nothing there, not even the faintest hint of some kind of matter or space dust, indicating that the area between the rings and Saturn is a whole big nothing. The rings, on the other hand, are made up of fast moving particles of ice and other space debris.
Cassini, which was launched back in 1997 as a collaborative partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, has been wandering around Saturn’s system since 2004, and is making about 22 more dives between the rings before it takes its final death plunge into Saturn in September.
“The region between the rings and Saturn is ‘the big empty,’ apparently,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected.”
“It was a bit disorienting — we weren’t hearing what we expected to hear,” said William Kurth, RPWS team lead at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. “I’ve listened to our data from the first dive several times and I can probably count on my hands the number of dust particle impacts I hear.”