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Movie of Saturn's ‘Ring Current’

Movie of Saturn's ‘Ring Current'

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This movie is made up of more than 600 consecutive images taken March 16-18, 2007, with the Cassini Magnetospheric Imaging instrument's ion and neutral camera. The movie clip shows Saturn's dynamic "ring current," which is an invisible ring of energetic ions trapped in the magnetic field of the planet. 

The ion and neutral camera allows scientists to produce movies that show how this ring changes over time, and these movies reveal a dynamic system. The ring current is doughnut shaped but, in some instances, appears like someone took a bite out of it.

The ion and neutral camera records the intensity of the escaping particles, which provides a map of the ring current. In this movie, the colors represent the intensity of the neutral emission, which is a reflection of the trapped ions. This "ring" is much farther from Saturn (roughly five times farther) then Saturn's famous icy rings. Red represents the higher intensity of the particles, while blue is less intense.

Saturn's ring current had not been mapped before on a global scale, only "snippets" or areas were mapped previously but not in this detail. 

The spacecraft coordinates are shown with each frame. Saturn is at the center and the dotted circles represent the orbits of the moon's Rhea and Titan. The Z axis points parallel with Saturn's spin axis, the X axis points roughly sunward in the sun—spin axis plane, and Y completes the system, roughly toward dusk. The magenta-colored axes represent a longitude system rotating with the planet, developed by the radio and plasma wave instrument team.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument was designed, built and is operated by an international team lead by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

Credit:  NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)