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Space NASA Science

Strange New Objects Seen In Saturn's Rings 113

Posted by Soulskill
from the cue-monolith-jokes dept.
Every 15 Earth years, Saturn has its equinox — the time during which its rotational axis is perpendicular to the rays from the sun, so that the sun is always directly "overhead" of Saturn's equator. This is significant because Saturn's rings orbit over the equator, so during the equinox, light from the sun hits them edge-on. This means that any objects wider than the rings, or orbiting above or below them, cast long shadows and are much easier to see. For the first time, we're able to get detailed images of these objects, thanks to Cassini. A moonlet, perhaps 1,300 feet in diameter, has been discovered in the B-ring, and the Bad Astronomy blog points out another object that seems to be bursting through the F-ring. Quoting: "The upward-angled structure is definitely real, as witnessed by the shadow it's casting on the ring material to the lower left. And what's with the bright patch right where this object seems to have slammed into the rings? Did it shatter millions of icy particles, revealing their shinier interior material, making them brighter? Clearly, something awesome and amazing happened here.
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Strange New Objects Seen In Saturn's Rings

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  • Savages (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:22PM (#29003059)

    A moonlet, perhaps 1,300 feet in diameter

    Can we have that in perches, chains and furlongs please?

    --A. Luddite

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by simcop2387 (703011)
      78.7877212121212 perches == 19.6969303030 chains == 1.96969303030303 furlongs
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Informative (1347701)
      2.731 centigrade
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are you crazy? SI-Units should be used under any circumstance.

      "Reproducibility of experimental results is central to the scientific method. A standard system of units facilitates this." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Units_of_measurement @ 2009-08-09]

      Some scientists or people with great affinity to science (eg.: me) are driven crazy by people using these obsolete units.

      • by Co0Ps (1539395)
        I think the parent was joking... but I agree completley.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NoobixCube (1133473)

        I have no problem buying food in Imperial units (not that I have to, since I'm in Australia), since it works out the same in the end. I even say I'm 6 feet tall, despite it being all metric here. I just can't stand Imperial units in a scientific context. Mythbusters get points of starting out metric in their early days, but they lose them again for presumably caving to producers who decided Americans were too stupid to know what a Newton is.

    • by PPH (736903)
      Well, lets see. The speed of light in a vacuum is approximately 1.8x10^12 furlongs per fortnight......
    • That comes out to 4 1/3 American football fields.
  • by Linknoid (46137) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:25PM (#29003069) Homepage

    It's a budong [youtube.com].

    • Re:That's no moon (Score:4, Interesting)

      by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:33PM (#29003125) Homepage
      Or maybe a monolith [wikipedia.org]...
      • Or maybe a monolith [wikipedia.org]...

        Nice try, wrong planet. Besides, "1300 feet in diameter" isn't exactly how you'd measure rectangular parallelepiped.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          In the original novel, the monolith was on a moon of Saturn.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            In the original novel, the monolith was on a moon of Saturn.

            Too bad the movie came first.

          • Re:That's no moon (Score:5, Informative)

            by Deuxsonic (828456) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @02:33PM (#29003849) Homepage
            It was changed to Jupiter for the movie because Stanley Kubrick couldn't find a good image of Saturn (this was 1968, so a lot of the great images we have today didn't exist.) The book retains the original planet of Saturn, yet strangely it gets changed to Jupiter in the later books (I guess to be canon with the movie?)
            • Re:That's no moon (Score:5, Informative)

              by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @03:10PM (#29004113) Homepage
              Douglas Trumbull, the man who created the effects for 2001, told Kubrick that Saturn was too hard to depict realistically. As for why the setting was different in the other novels, in an author's note in 2061, Clarke claimed that each novel took place in a different parallel universe. My personal reason is that Clarke's original novels are all terrific, but his sequels are all terrible. Especially those god-awful Rama books he co-wrote with Gentry Lee. And yet, I couldn't stop reading them. I hate myself.
              • Douglas Trumbull, the man who created the effects for 2001, told Kubrick that Saturn was too hard to depict realistically

                And then ripped the footage off for his own movie!

            • Jupiter also looks better in the sense that it is a human ovum-shaped object which is encountering a sperm-shaped space craft. The symbolism of new life, new evolution is much clearer with Jupiter than Saturn.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by nedlohs (1335013)

          Saturn is the right planet, stupid movie be damned.

          And yes diameter is exactly how you would measure it until you got a high enough resolution image to atually see the shape.

          • I actually love the movie. It just wouldn't have worked for my joke and I've read the book (which I also enjoyed, but I like the movie more). However, I'm a bit biased. One of my parents wrote a book about the film and it's the first movie I ever remember watching- projected across the living room wall with a 16mm projector with a Cinemascope lens for a group of graduate students. I was around two years old. I've seen it probably hundreds of times since.
            • I was born in 1965 and I saw 2001 as a new release. The scene where Bowman disassembles HAL gave me nightmares for years afterwards.
              • Seconded, but also in my case, it was the scene where Frank Poole's body is spinning off into space. The hibernauculum didn't help much either for the mental imagery.
        • by tsa (15680)

          Indeed, for a start you would use SI units.

      • Silly people. Its obviously the Magic School Bus [wikipedia.org]!

    • by Sumbius (1500703)
      But weren't budongs supposed to be extinct?
    • by DoninIN (115418)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jvqPvDUEW8 [youtube.com] It's a spaceship. It's here to bring our machines to life and wipe us out. No one else read Trucks?/Saw Maximum Overdrive?
  • Dudes (Score:3, Funny)

    by Kingrames (858416) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:36PM (#29003151)
    If you don't know what caused it by now, go watch the new Star Trek movie already. It's actually good.
  • stargate (Score:3, Funny)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:37PM (#29003161) Journal

    That's just a Goa'uld mothership approaching Earth. No need for alarm at all.

  • by snowwrestler (896305) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:38PM (#29003167)

    Just let me know if they spot a ring that looks like it's been braided.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by John Hasler (414242)
      • by Fluffeh (1273756)

        Just let me know if they spot a ring that looks like it's been braided.

        That's part of why I love slashdot. For so many people that ask for something seemingly impossible, there seems to be someone who either has the answer or knows someone that does.

        Bless you uber-nerds!

  • radial distance? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by N7DR (536428) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:41PM (#29003189) Homepage

    I haven't been able to find a reference that states the precise radial location of this object. Does anyone here have that information?

    The Voyager 2 photopolarimeter data from 1981 suggested the presence of a small object in Saturn's B ring at a radial distance of around 109,000 km.

    It would be interesting to know whether this is confirmation of that object, 28 years later.

    (I have a vested interest: I was the principal author on the Voyager paper: Icarus 54, 267 (1983).)

    • Re:radial distance? (Score:5, Informative)

      by spacemandave (1231398) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:55PM (#29003269)
      According to Ciclops [ciclops.org] it's 480 km inward of the outer edge of the B ring, which puts it at a radial distance of 117,100 km
      • Re:radial distance? (Score:4, Informative)

        by N7DR (536428) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:42PM (#29003553) Homepage

        According to Ciclops [ciclops.org] it's 480 km inward of the outer edge of the B ring, which puts it at a radial distance of 117,100 km

        Thanks very much; that's a much better source of information than TFA.

      • Re:radial distance? (Score:4, Informative)

        by j-stroy (640921) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @02:51PM (#29003967)
        The rings are non-concentric [ciclops.org] at that point. Pushing the brightness levels to expand bright artifacts shows interesting "twisting" [photobucket.com] (look on each side lower on left, higher on right) The close-up views miss some details that a "big picture" shows, reductionism, feh.

        We assume an orientation of the anomaly parallel to Saturn's axis, but from the brightness of the reflected light on the "dark side" of it suggests an angle maybe closer to that of the ring plane... remember where the sun is. Although, it could be illumination of backscatter from Saturn, or by internal reflections between the particles.

        Ring particles could be caused to move by electrostatics, not just gravity or collision, so I'm thinking a long plasma trail behind a comet passing thru, or a slower moving (orbital?) charged object causing a ruction. Heck, why not a moving cloud of magnetic particles colliding with the ring bits, which are then drawn along Saturns magnetic field.
    • Re:radial distance? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:10PM (#29003349)

      Obviously I haven't read that paper, nor any related papers on the subject ...

      But wouldn't you expect to see pieces of the rings coalesces into larger objects (I'm guessing under the same forces that make planets) and then be destroyed by gravity continually?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eternauta3k (680157)
        IANAA, but I'd expect the bits of debris to settle into an equilibrium between clumping and breaking up: rings. What you describe suggests some form of hysteresis.
        • Nope, grandparent was basically right. You form temporary gravitational aggregates and then let tides destroy them on orbital timescales. It's seen in simulations all the time and the various data show strong indications that such structures must exist. (See, for example, the A Ring Azimuthal Brightness Asymmetry.)

      • by xilmaril (573709)

        Obviously I haven't read that paper, nor any related papers on the subject ...

        But wouldn't you expect to see pieces of the rings coalesces into larger objects (I'm guessing under the same forces that make planets) and then be destroyed by gravity continually?

        No, while I haven't read the papers either, I can confirm that gravity will not be the force pulling objects apart, at least not directly, as it is an attractive force. Also, the forces that make planets are generally agreed to be massively more powerful than anything going on in the rings of saturn, although if they are also just gravity is beyond me.

        By simple logic, the rings will settle into something resembling an equilibrium, as they haven't all turned to dust or clumped into one piece over the many

        • Re:radial distance? (Score:4, Informative)

          by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:58PM (#29004795) Homepage

          Actually, no. Gravity WILL, in effect, pull objects apart thanks to tides. This is what keeps the rings from accreting into a single body, more or less. So gravity, while most simply an attractive force, *can* actual cause repulsion. (Another fine example is the F ring itself, which is shepherded by two moons. The moons push the ring back when it tries to spread toward the moons.)

          This is what keeps the rings from accreting, more or less. And collisions are so slow that grinding isn't a *huge* factor, although some amount of re-collection of dust onto macroscopic particles probably helps that significantly.

        • Re:radial distance? (Score:4, Informative)

          by SL Baur (19540) <steve@xemacs.org> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:00PM (#29004811) Homepage Journal

          No, while I haven't read the papers either, I can confirm that gravity will not be the force pulling objects apart, at least not directly, as it is an attractive force.

          Maybe you should do some reading. Start with googling "roche limit". Tidal forces ripping an object apart are how the rings got formed in the first place.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Cassini sees its own shadow.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Thuktun Flishithy has arrived. We have about 20 years until the attack. Better start building Michael right now

    PS: Don't get it? Read some Larry Niven.

  • Oh dear (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joe Jay Bee (1151309) <jbsouthsea@noSpAm.gmail.com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:03PM (#29003323)

    Could this be one of the few threads where the Goatse guy is on-topic? After all, numerous strange objects have been seen in his ring.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:10PM (#29003347)
    Saturn has always been the least hygienic of the gas giants.
  • TMA-3?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spoonist (32012) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:33PM (#29003505) Journal
    Let me guess, it's about two kilometers long [wikipedia.org]...
    • by S-100 (1295224)
      Built in the exact proportions of 1, 4, 9 - the square of the first three integers. And of course this doesn't stop after just three dimensions...
  • It's obviously the Thuktun Flishithy

  • Well I was going to make the following joke...

    Is this "moonlet" curiously rectangular in shape with dimensions in the ratio of 1:4:9 per chance? ...but the picture in TFA does in fact bear an uncanny resemblance to a monolith reflecting light off it's thin side and I don't want labelled as a complete mad-hatter so I'll just pitch one up for the real fruit-loops to bat out of the park instead...

  • UFO (Score:3, Funny)

    by pizzach (1011925) <pizzach.gmail@com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:50PM (#29003609) Homepage
    Why has no-one tagged this "ufo"? Is in Unidentified Flying Object? It would make me tingly on the inside with space dust if someone does.
  • Shit! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by db32 (862117) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @03:11PM (#29004119) Journal
    Haven't any of you read Footfall?! I for one welcome our new elephant overlords!
  • by X3J11 (791922)

    Farscape, 2001, SG-1 and Star Trek all in one article's first few comments. I doubt it's a record for /., but damn. Pity no one could work a Doctor Who reference in there somewhere.

    Yeah I'm off-topic, so sue... erm, mod me.

    • by pohl (872)

      Ok, if you insist...

      "Gosh, I wonder if these strange new objects are dimensionally transcendental, like a Tardis!"

      Happy now? ;-)

    • by Hatta (162192) *

      I'm surprised this one hasn't been tagged vogonconstructorfleet yet.

  • Jimmy Hoffa?!?
  • Please. This happens all the time, but now someone saw it. Who gives a crap? And don't decide what everyone thinks is 'clear' or 'awesome', thanks very much.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      "all the time" isn't mutually exclusive with "awesome". Meteor impacts are happening in the universe all the time, but are awesome.

      But you're right, it was unfair of the author to assume everyone would think this was awesome, not accounting for the large populations of prats out there.

  • It's bleeding Russell's Teapot. Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
  • i had some bean and cheese burritos Saturday night and blew out my O ring.

  • I bet it was Jango Fett.

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