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A Long Night Falls Over Saturn's Rings
As Saturn's rings orbit the planet, a section is typically in the planet's shadow, experiencing a brief night lasting from 6 to 14 hours. However, once approximately every 15 years, night falls over the entire visible ring system for about four days.
This happens during Saturn's equinox, when the sun is directly over Saturn's equator. At this time, the rings, which also orbit directly over the planet's equator, appear edge-on to the sun. During equinox, light from the sun hits the ring particles at very low angles, accenting their topography and giving us a three-dimensional view of the rings.

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What shook up Saturn's rings in 1984?

Saturn's rings seem almost immutable. These planetary jewels, carved by moonlets and shaped by gravity, could well have looked much the same now as they did billions of years ago - but only from afar.
Now it is emerging that an event around 25 years ago dramatically disrupted the rings - and all our telescopes and spacecraft missed it. This mysterious event suddenly warped the planet's innermost rings into a ridged spiral pattern, like the grooves on a vinyl record. The latest images reveal that the perturbation is so vast that only a profound change to the planet can have caused it.

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Giant Dust Ring Is Discovered Around Saturn
The thin array of ice and dust particles lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, and its orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet's main ring plane. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the newly-found ring is so huge that it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it.


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NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous ring around Saturn - by far the largest of the giant planet's many rings.
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 kilometres away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometres. One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.


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NASA Space Telescope Discovers Largest Ring Around Saturn
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous ring around Saturn -- by far the largest of the giant planet's many rings.
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 kilometres away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometres. One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

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A colossal ring of debris found around Saturn is the largest in the solar system. The new ring could be the 'smoking gun' that explains the curious two-faced appearance of Saturn's moon Iapetus, whose leading hemisphere is much darker than its trailing side.
Until now, the biggest known rings in the solar system were Saturn's E ring and faint, gossamer sheets of dust orbiting Jupiter. Saturn's E ring, a diffuse disc of icy material fed by the moon Enceladus, extends from 3 to perhaps 20 times the radius of Saturn.
Calculations indicate the tenuous ring is probably even more extensive and is likely to have a diameter reaching 36 million kilometres.
This finding makes the band the largest known planetary ring in the solar system, researchers reported October 6 at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Societys Division for Planetary Sciences.

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PIA07712b.jpg
Expand (28.85mb, 900 x 900)
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


This animated image of the shepherd moons Pandora and Prometheus near Saturn's thin F ring was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on the 20th August, 2009, when the spacecraft was approximately 2.3 million kilometres away from Saturn.
The image scale is 13 kilometres per pixel.

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Cassini Reveals New Ring Quirks, Shadows During Saturn Equinox
NASA scientists are marvelling over the extent of ruffles and dust clouds revealed in the rings of Saturn during the planet's equinox last month. Scientists once thought the rings were almost completely flat, but new images reveal the heights of some newly discovered bumps in the rings are as high as the Rocky Mountains. NASA released the images Monday.

"It's like putting on 3-D glasses and seeing the third dimension for the first time. This is among the most important events Cassini has shown us" - Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


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