The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Lifestyles

February 21, 2013

Saturn's kinky rings explained

The first time you see Saturn's rings through a telescope is amazing. It can change your life — literally, as it did for me when I was a wee lad.

The rings are shocking through a big telescope. Even through a small one you can see them clearly, and with a big one you can start to see some details, like the big Cassini Division, a dark gap slicing the main ring system in two.

But there's nothing like being there. The Cassini spacecraft (named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini, who discovered his eponymous division) has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. A masterwork of engineering, Cassini has returned thousands upon thousands of incredible images, showing amazing details in the rings.

On Dec. 25, 2012, from a distance of 1.1 million kilometers (680,000 miles), it took this phenomenal shot of Saturn's outer rings [see photo].

Saturn is off the frame to the upper left in this picture. Cassini was just over the plane of the rings, looking at them from a shallow angle. The sun is shining down on them, so they look very bright.

The main A ring is to the upper left, and you can see the Keeler gap, a narrow (40 km/25 mile) empty region in the rings, where the ice particles that make up the rings have been swept clear by the gravity of the tiny moon Daphnis.

But the star of this show is the weird F ring (the rings were named in order of discovery, not distance from Saturn). To give you a sense of scale, the division between the A and F rings is about 3,000 km (1,800 miles), roughly the distance from New York City to Denver, Colo.

The ring is narrow, and that's no accident. Orbiting just inside and outside of it are two very small moons named Prometheus and Pandora, and they act as shepherds, constraining the ice particles into that narrow strand. Due to the vagaries of orbital mechanics, most of the particles that stray outward or inward from the ring are gently nudged back into it by the moons' gravity.

Text Only
Lifestyles
  • Choral group marks 10th anniversary CLINTON -- A Clinton choral group will celebrate its 10th anniversary this weekend. RiverChor will celebrate the anniversary at 2 p.m. Sunday at Zion Lutheran Church. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted. A reception will be held in th

    April 21, 2014

  • Human trafficking Stickers highlight human trafficking CLINTON -- Area establishments are receiving added decor this week thanks to an anti-trafficking committee. Sisters of St. Francis Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking Anti-Trafficking committee members are placing stickers in local establis

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • Calling all munchkins CLINTON -- The Clinton Area Showboat Theatre is looking for munchkins. Local auditions will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 19, at the Showboat for munchkins in the upcoming "The Wizard of Oz" performance. Munchkins may be of any age as long as

    April 22, 2014

  • St. Paul grants Church awards grants

    CLINTON -- An area church recently awarded area organizations with grants. The Bickelhaupt Arboretum, the Felix Adler Children's Discovery Center, First Circle Friends, YWCA, Voices for the Land/Monarch Teacher Network and Haley Westerkamp were grant

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • On Iowa program selects Clinton residents CLINTON -- Four Clinton residents recently were named On Iowa student leaders. Keaton Fuller, Jacinta Jargo, Kenya Lewis and Allyson Naeve were among 235 people selected to serve as welcomers to new first-year and transfer students at the University

    April 22, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-18 at 4.44.15 PM.png Paint, doodle and sketch: 3 apps for art lovers

    In the absence of a palette of watercolors and a sketchpad, these three apps can fill in as your art supplies of choice.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Costume jewelry popular at auction It was a large and varied auction on April 12 at the National Guard Armory and by the start of the auction more than 100 people had already registered for their bidding number, and 30 to 40 additional people showed up during the first 20 minutes of t

    April 19, 2014

  • Way of the Cross photo The Way of the Cross By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer The Way of the Cross

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Student leadership Alumni honor students at luncheon CLINTON -- Clinton Community College student leaders were recognized at a student leader luncheon. The CCC Alumni Association honored 30 students, who were nominated by the CCC staff and faculty for showing leadership in the classroom, on campus and

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

Elections
Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

Should the city of Clinton appeal the open records violation ruling that will cost taxpayers $40,600?

Yes
No
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.