By Michelle Starr
In its final year, Cassini plunged where no spacecraft had plunged before, down in the space between Saturn and its rings. Again and again it dove, for a total of 22 orbits. In the data collecting during those breakneck dives, astronomers have just found new information about the way tiny moons sculpt and carve those rings.
It is, they say, not only new evidence that Saturn’s rings are much younger than the planet, but also a window into the way planets form in the giant rings of dust and debris that circle newborn stars.
The new data, collected using four of Cassini’s instruments, show the rings in more detail than ever before.
“It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings. Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on,” said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker of JPL-NASA. “Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalising ones remain.”
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