NASA's Saturn probe beams back image of wavemaker moon Daphnis

Darnell ReidJan 23, 2017

Vertical structures created by Saturn's small moon Daphnis cast long shadows across the rings. Fifty percent wider than the Grand Canyon, this dust-free band in the outermost A Ring of Saturn is thought to be kept clear by the moon's orbit around the gas giant. The gap is 26 miles wide, but it appears narrower because of Cassini's viewing angle.

At the peaks of the waves, which run both vertically and horizontally to the rings, you can see a fine dusting of material that was stirred up when the Wavemaker passed close by. Its surface is relatively smooth, most likely because it accumulated fine particles from Saturn's rings. "A few craters are obvious at this resolution. Image scale is 551 feet (168 meters) per pixel", a statement posted on NASA's official website reads. The view was acquired at a distance of about 28,000 km from Daphnis.

This gravitational disruption can be seen in the form of waves spanning the lower edge of the gap, which sends a reminder that Saturn's rings are not the static 2-D disks they seem in pictures but rather full 3-D objects with their own internal structure and movement. This could be a result of the motion of the fine ring particles, which escalate into the gap while Daphni's previous proximate approach that edge while orbiting.

Scientists say the grainy appearance observed in several segments of the A ring adjacent to the gap occupied by Daphnis could mark regions where ice particles are clumping together. The mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadenafor NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Last November, Cassini started grazing the outer orbits of Saturns main rings.Cassini's daring ring-skimming orbits of Saturn are already paying off, producing some lovely and awe-inspiring views that have, until now, been too far away to see. A faint wave-like trace of ring material is just visible trailing close behind Daphnis. This trail of particle might be spreading itself out because the moon might have drawn some of them from the ring. The spacecraft will end its mission in September when it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere.

Though Daphnis is small-just five miles in diameter-it's mighty.

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