Cassini, the unmanned spacecraft orbiting Saturn, has made a notable discovery: nothing. After completing two circuits in the wide, unexplored area between the giant planet’s famous rings, the spacecraft found that there is nothing there.
Researchers at NASA were surprised to learn, from information Cassini beamed back, that there is not much in those voids between the rings, not even space dust, Phys.org reports. Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Cassini’s Project Manager, said,
The region between the rings and Saturn is ‘the big empty,’ apparently.
The actual rings are made up of ice and space debris that move really fast.
Cassini launched in 1997, and the 22-foot-tall spacecraft began orbiting Saturn in 2004. It has since relayed plenty of information that scientists have been using to find out more about the planet.
It made its first pass to explore what lay between the rings in April this year, and a second on May 2, at a speed of 77,000 miles per hour relative to Saturn. The space between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is some 1,500 miles.
On its most recent pass, it caught several stunning, close-up images of Saturn’s rings. NASA has put together these images into a video, to show what the rings would have looked like from Cassini’s perspective.
NASA said, “The movie comprises one hour of observations as the spacecraft moved southward over Saturn. It begins with a view of the swirling vortex at the planet’s north pole, then heads past the outer boundary of the hexagon-shaped jet stream and beyond.” The next dive is scheduled for May 9, Techno Buffalo says.
Cassini is expected to make a total of 22 passes between the rings before it makes its plunge into the planet’s deadly atmosphere in September. The spacecraft is a 20-year joint mission among NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.