STATES CHRONICLE – The series of amazing findings achieved by Cassini don’t seem to stop. As the scientists keep analyzing the observations made by the spacecraft, they discover more unique phenomena which take place around Saturn. The latest discovery regards the rings, and highlights a new function for them. It turns out that the shadow they cast upon the planet has the capacity of changing its atmosphere.
Saturn’s rings affect its atmosphere
Saturn’s rings are made of dust and rocks, and they seem to be interacting with the planet more than we thought. The rings cast a shadow on the planet, just like any other object situated so close to a celestial body would do. As soon as Cassini entered the space between the rings and the planet, they noticed how this shadow actually interacts with the atmosphere.
The shadow is formed as the rings block the sunlight from reaching the surface of the planet. At the same time, they also block the UV radiation which comes with the light. As this happens, those regions of the atmosphere where the shades are cast undergo a lower ionization process.
These formations block radiation and affect ionization
Researchers compared the ionosphere of both the northern and the southern parts of the planet, and discovered some significant differences. This ionosphere is made up of charged particles. They get charged as soon as the energy coming from the sunlight activates their electrons. Therefore, if some regions of the ionosphere are shaded, then the charging process is affected.
Saturn has plenty of rings, but the major ones are A, B, and C. After studying Cassini’s findings, researchers established that A and B affect ionization in the southern area, as they prevent sunlight from reaching the surface. These rings were found to remain opaque in front of radiation, while the others could let sunlight pass through. All these findings have been collected in a study in the journal Science.
Image Source: Cassini – NASA