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NASA Discovers Giant Ring Around Saturn 255

Posted by Soulskill
from the headlines-that-aren't-as-stupid-as-they-sound dept.
caffiend666 writes with news that scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered a very large, previously unknown ring around the planet Saturn. According to NASA, if the ring were visible to the naked eye from Earth, it would cover a patch of sky roughly twice the angular diameter of the Moon. "The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers. One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material. Saturn's newest halo is thick, too — its vertical height is about 20 times the diameter of the planet. It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the ring. ... The ring itself is tenuous, made up of a thin array of ice and dust particles. Spitzer's infrared eyes were able to spot the glow of the band's cool dust. The telescope, launched in 2003, is currently 107 million kilometers from Earth in orbit around the sun."
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NASA Discovers Giant Ring Around Saturn

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  • by WCMI92 (592436) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:54AM (#29669959) Homepage

    Which was... "DUH!". Galileo discovered the "huge rings around Saturn". But reading deeper this is a fascinating find, that the invisible portion of the rings are way bigger than the spectacularly visible ones.

  • Missed by Voyager? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by IflyRC (956454) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:00AM (#29670049)
    I'm not sure I understand why something so large was missed by Voyager. I understand the difficulty of viewing something like this from Earth but those probes were right there.
  • by stressclq (881842) * on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:04AM (#29670091)

    Couldn't help myself, from TFA (emphasis added):

    Before the discovery Saturn was known to have seven main rings named A through E and several faint unnamed rings.

    What kind of a messed up numeral system do they use in NASA?

    Joking aside, the ring divisions are labelled (from the closest to furthest) : D, C, B, A then F, G and finally E as the outermost ring.

    Wonder what they will name this one, anyone good with sequence puzzles?

  • Infrared (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ichthus (72442) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:06AM (#29670123) Homepage
    So, it sounds like it shows up in the infrared. But, it must be filtered by our atmosphere, or something -- otherwise we'd be able to see it from the ground.

    What a shame. It would be really cool to capture it [wired.com] with a DSLR.
  • Well (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OrangeMonkey11 (1553753) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:07AM (#29670131)

    I don't know if you could consider this is part of the ring system around Saturn due to the fact that is start around 3.7 millions miles away from the planet and stretched out to its furthest at 7.4 millions miles; I'm not an astronomer by any means but I would consider this and asteroid belt of some sort; Saturn gravitation pulled cannot be that strong holding materials that far away.

  • Yeah, but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by huckamania (533052) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:13AM (#29670217) Journal

    Now that the funny is out of the way...

    I would think that this kind of discovery could close the gap for some of the physics problems we are trying to solve. Could the headline have read 'Missing matter discovered around Saturn'? Supposedly we are missing 75% of the matter in the universe or some percentage.

    Ice in space? I wonder what we could do with that. Maybe Mars isn't so boring after all.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:15AM (#29670235) Homepage Journal

    It's a very faint ring, more like a thin cloud. Voyager was generally not designed to study something that thin, unless perhaps they knew specifically what to look for, such as a specific wavelength. Plus, when you are "in" it, it's hard to have something to compare to know that there's a difference. You cannot rule out instrument contamination or noise when it's almost equal in all directions.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:22AM (#29670327) Homepage

    As others have pointed out, the issue was with luminosity, not being too small to see.

    In fact, these rings are SO big that being close probably makes them even harder to see.

    Consider that we know exactly what the shape of the Andromeda galaxy is, but we only have a general knowledge of the shape of our own galaxy. Or, consider that a person in a hedge maze might need an hour or two to accurately map it, but somebody flying overhead would just have to snap a photo.

    On the topic of Andromeda - that galaxy is actually similar to the size of the moon in the sky (maybe bigger). However, it is too dim to see with the naked eye (maybe just a splotch in a very dark sky). A simple camera can get a decent shot of it given a long enough exposure time.

  • by Loomismeister (1589505) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:30AM (#29670425)
    If these rings are so see through and spread out how can you measure where the boundaries of it are?
  • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:59AM (#29670847) Homepage Journal

    It is astonishing how little we know about the non-radiating matter in our own solar system. For example, the size of the Oort cloud is not really known.
    We can see active galactic nuclei up to z=6.4 or 5.4 Gpc, but don't know the objects within 0.04 parsecs of earth yet.
    The sphere is a beast.

  • Re:Good thing... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sique (173459) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:09PM (#29670963) Homepage

    But Uranus actually has a ring system [wikipedia.org].

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:31PM (#29671257) Homepage

    The other post had some good tips. Note that strictly speaking you don't need a tracking telescope. You can take a bunch of 10s exposures with a half-decent camera and then overlay them to get a better image. There is software out there that will do this semi-automatically (google for stacking), or you can just use Photoshop.

    Don't expect to get something like what you'd see out of the Hubble. In my light-polluted area (suburban), with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, I was able to get a small hazy disc with a central bulge. I suspect my focus was a bit off (very hard to focus a camera on a dark sky - use live view if you have it). Even so, it was fairly clear that the object was a galaxy.

    To help locate it in a photo be sure to consult a star chart that includes low-magnitude stars. The stars that you can actually see will be fairly large and prominant in your photo, but they'll be far apart. You'll have lots of small stars that you can't see with your eyes, but decent charts will have them.

    Astronomy software will calculate the altitude (angle above horizon) and azimuth (compass heading) for any location date/time. If you don't have access to software, this website [xjubier.free.fr] will work. You need to enter your own lat/long, and the time in UTC. For the RA/Dec use (from wikipedia):
    Right ascension 00h 42m 44.3s
    Declination +41 16 9

    Right now it appears that in the US that M31 is below the horizon for most of the night. You might have to wait six months to get a good shot.

    Disclaimer - while I have an interest in this stuff I wouldn't call myself even an amateur astronomer. Also - if Andromeda is invisible I suspect there is a chance that Orion is above the horizon and it also has a decent-sized nebula (but I'm not sure if you could get that without a telescope).

  • Size of Andromeda (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kelson (129150) * on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:41PM (#29671371) Homepage Journal

    NASA posted a great composite shot a few years ago showing the full moon and the Andromeda galaxy at the same angular scale.

    Astronomy Picture of the Day: Moon over Andromeda [nasa.gov].

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted AT slashdot DOT org> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @01:43PM (#29672023)

    More so, to OPEN YOUR MOUTH when decompressing. And keep your mouth extremely dry!
    Because else, the pressure in your lungs will blast you. And the water in your mouth (essentially the athmosphere you talked about) will freeze to stone.
    But afterwards, you can easily survive for 30 seconds. Your skin will just begin to swell. But return to normal once inside again.

    The biggest problem would rather be radiation, and of course the breathing. But I can hold my breath for two minutes. So I'd actually not be *that* frightened about shortly being exposed no naked space while being "naked". Just have to get in again.

    There is a NASA FAQ where I got that information from. As someone actually already tried that. (Man, you must have balls to be the first to just try that without knowing what will happen! But hey, same thing is true about sitting on a huge rocket and blasting to another planet in the first place!!)

If a listener nods his head when you're explaining your program, wake him up.

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