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Cool image time! The latest image releases from Cassini, taken during its recent close fly-by campaign of the rings of Saturn, focus on the propeller features produced in the rings by larger ring objects. The image on the right, reduced to show here, reveals dozens of propellers of all shapes and sizes.
The original discovery of propellers in this region in Saturn’s rings … was made using several images taken from very close to the rings during Cassini’s 2004 arrival at Saturn. Those discovery images were of low resolution and were difficult to interpret, and there were few clues as to how the small propellers seen in those images were related to the larger propellers Cassini observed later in the mission….
This image, for the first time, shows swarms of propellers of a wide range of sizes, putting the ones Cassini observed in its Saturn arrival images in context. Scientists will use this information to derive a “particle size distribution” for propeller moons, which is an important clue to their origins.
The parallel pattern of rings in the center of the image is a series of density waves in the ring structure, caused by an interaction with one of Saturn’s larger nearby moons.
They have also released the best view we can now expect of a propeller by Cassini.
This is the third and final propeller to be targeted for a close flyby observation during Cassini’s ring-grazing orbits (the period from Nov. 2016 to April 2017 when Cassini’s orbit passed just outside the main rings). …Because propellers are seen in the outermost parts of the main rings, the ring-grazing orbits provided Cassini’s best opportunity to see them up close.
Cassini is now diving between the rings and the planet, so the propellers are farther away.