Saturn went "rain" with its rings

Saturn went

As impressive as Cassini's mission was, everything, we know, has an end: On September 15, 2017, Cassini burned its last reserves of fuel during a kamikaze flight into the atmosphere of the very big Ring Planet.

During its mission, the Cassini probe spent 20 years exploring space, with most of the time spent observing Saturn, where it captured over 450, 000 pictures as it orbited the famous ringed planet. But before it performed that final dive, it completed an absolutely remarkable finale by looping around the planet at ever-closer distances and slipping through the planet's rings. The second - according to astronomers - can survive from 700 thousand to 7 million years. The rain is mostly composed of molecular hydrogen, but also contain lots of icy water as well as carbon compounds, like butane and propane, reports Elizabeth Howell at Seeker. It swooped in between the planet and its signature rings, instrumentation furiously collecting data all way until the absolute end. "One is the chemical complexity of that "rain" of small particles from that ring, the second is the sheer volume of material that is continuously falling onto Saturn".

And over time, that material could alter the carbon and oxygen content in Saturn's atmosphere.

"This gunk coming in chews up a lot of the ionosphere, affects its composition and causes observable effects-that's what we're trying to understand now", co-author Thomas Cravens of the University of Kansas says in a press release.

As for Cassini, "I am sure there will be surprises yet to come", said Horányi, who is also a co-investigator on the Cosmic Dust Analyzer. One is the chemical complexity of what was coming off the rings - we thought it would be nearly entirely water based on what we saw in the past.

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If scientists can identify the exact types of silicates that coat Saturn's rings, they may be able to tell whether those features are billions of years old or much younger.

The probe could then use its Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) to analyse the chemical content of this rain, even though it was created to analyse gases. Researchers are yet puzzled as to why ring rain is bereaved of water.

The methane, Cravens said, was wholly unexpected, as was the carbon dioxide. Cassini made 22 passes around Saturn, threading between the planet's closest ring and its upper atmosphere, a space less than 1,200 miles wide.

A large part of the particles consists of water ice. The composition of the organics is different from that found on moon Enceladus - and also different from that on moon Titan, meaning there are at least three distinct reservoirs of organic molecules in the Saturn system.

"If it's not being replenished, the rings aren't going to last - you've got a hole in your bucket". Several other papers based on the data also published in Science reveal a new electric current system connecting the rings and upper atmosphere and a newly discovered radiation belt around the planet.

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