Tuesday 30 April 2013

Meteoroid strikes Saturn's rings

Recently, scientists have been investigating something strange with the rings of Saturn. These are strange lines that appear... quite brightly too. It is now believed that these are debris clouds, formed when meteoroids impact with the material in the rings themselves. An news item has just be posted up on the U. Oulu website about this exciting finding and announces the article that has been published on 26th April, with contributions from J. Schmidt from the University of Oulu. Quoting from it...

Meteoroids, for instance visible as bright meteors in earths atmosphere, exist all over the Solar System and it has long been anticipated that they constantly erode Saturn's rings. The rings are made of water ice particles that are partly pulverized when struck by an impact of several tens of km/s. The erosion rate of the rings, and also their pollution with external material provided by the meteoroids, is of ultimate importance for the ongoing controversial scientific debate on the age of Saturn's ring system and how it has been created.These debris clouds, providing direct evidence for the meteoritic ring erosion, were observed now for the first time. This was possible in images taken at a very special geometry, when in 2009 the sun was illuminating the Saturn system edge on, which happens only every 15 years. In this geometry the rings remain relatively dark, while the debris still stands out in full sunshine above the ring plane, making the detection possible.

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