Wednesday, October 7, 2009


That Saturn has rings, we know. But the discovery of an enormous dust and ice ring distantly orbiting Saturn and that may explain the yin-yang appearance of the moon Iapetus is stunning. Makes you wonder what is going on out there, among all that ice and darkness.

The ring, as depicted here, tilts 27 degrees to Saturn's equator, matching the tilt and retrograde orbit of Saturn's distant moon Phoebe. As Iapetus, orbiting in the opposite direction, plows through this dust, astronomers speculate, the moon's leading face picks up the dust. The image here is of the infrared light reflected from the ring's tiny particles. The particles are so tiny, and so far apart, they say, the ring would be difficult to detect with the naked eye. More about the discovery is online here.

So the space around Saturn is just dusty, dusty.

This is why space exploration fascinates me. We think we've seen quite a bit in our own little solar system, and yet something as magnificent a this can go undetected until the right equipment is there and the right people are looking in the right direction. If only my math skills were a little bit -- well, a lot -- better, I'd be right there.

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