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Saturn's Ring: Pre-Cassini Status and Mission GoalsIn November 1980, and again in August 1981, identical Voyager spacecraft flew through the Saturn system, changing forever the way we think about planetary rings. Although Saturn's rings had been the only known ring system for three centuries, a ring system around Uranus had been discovered by stellar occultations from Earth in 1977, and the nearly transparent ring of Jupiter was imaged by Voyager in 1979 (the presence of material there had been inferred from charged particle experiments on Pioneer 10 and 11 several years earlier). While Saturn had thus temporarily lost its uniqueness as having the only ring system, with Voyager it handily recaptured the role of having the most fascinating one. The Voyager breakthroughs included spiral density and bending waves such as cause galactic structure; ubiquitous fine-scale radial 'irregular' structure, with the appearance of record-grooves; regional and local variations in particle color; complex, azimuthally variable ring structure; empty gaps in the rings, some containing very regular, sharp-edged, elliptical rings and one containing both a small moonlet and incomplete arcs of dusty material; and shadowy 'spokes' that flicker across the main rings. One of the paradigm shifts of this period was the realization that many aspects of planetary rings, and even the ring systems themselves, could be 'recent' on geological timescales. These early results are reviewed and summarized in the Arizona Space Science series volumes 'Saturn'. (An excellent review of ring dynamics at a formative stage is by Goldreich and Tremaine.) From the mid 1980's to the time of this writing, progress has been steady, while at a less heady pace, and some of the novel ring properties revealed by Voyager 1 and 2 are beginning to be better understood. It is clearly impossible to cite, much less review, every advance over the last decade; however, below we summarize the main advances in understanding of Saturn's rings since the mid 1980's, in the context of the Cassini Science Objectives.
Document ID
Document Type
Cuzzi, Jeff N. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
DeVincenzi, Donald L.
Date Acquired
August 20, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1999
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 624-06-86
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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