Saturn, February 5, 2008
The tiny moon Enceladus seems poised to bounce off Saturn's rings in a new image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
The latest observations from Cassini suggest that Saturn's A ringthe outermost of the thick light-colored bandsis doing housecleaning, soaking up material that gushes from Enceladus's huge ice geysers
"Saturn's A-ring and Enceladus are separated by 100,000 kilometers [62,000 miles], yet there's a physical connection between the two," NASA scientist William Farrell said in a press release.
The craft showed that, as gas particles shooting out of Enceladus become electrically charged by sunlight, they are swept up by Saturn's powerful magnetic field. The particles then start bouncing from pole to pole along the magnetic field lines until they get trapped by the A ring.
"This is an example of how Saturn's rings mitigate the overall radiation environment around the planet, sponging up low- and high-energy particles," Farrell said.
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Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute