Images Of Saturn's Rings Puts Scientists In The Loop

Medicine & Science

July 05, 2004|By Dennis O'Brien

The spacecraft Cassini took these startling images last week as it slipped into orbit around Saturn -- the best close-ups ever of the icy particles that make up the planet's mysterious rings.

Believed to be only a few hundred million years old, Saturn's rings were discovered by Galileo in 1610, and scientists think they're a model of what our solar system looked like before dust particles around the sun joined to form the planets.

Some of the dust particles that make up the rings are grain-sized, while others are as big as barns. NASA hopes that Cassini will tell them how the rings were created, how old they are and what gives them their pinkish tint.

NASA expects to release color images in the days ahead, taken by instruments that read ultraviolet light. Cassini will also take images of the rings using radio waves and infrared light to give scientists a better understanding of their composition.

The $3 billion Cassini probe will orbit Saturn 76 times over the next four years, snapping 300,000 images with five telescopes. In December, Cassini will release a 700-pound probe, Huygens, which will land on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

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