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Cassini Provides New View of Saturn's Wave-Making Moon Daphnis

23 January 2017

On Monday, NASA's Cassini flew by Daphnis, a special moon of Saturn that's known as a wavemaker. 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. Beyond the robotic probe's camera resolution, however, are the ripples and waves that are inevitably caused by the gravities of small moons embedded in the many ring gaps. Cassini spacecraft took the view from a distance of 17000 miles from Daphnis at an angle of 17 degrees.

This up close and personal snap, taken on January 16, allowed astronomers to observe a narrow ridge around its equator, as well as a number of craters and some fine details within the rings themselves. Image scale is 551 feet (168 meters) per pixel. This new photo demonstrates the effect in the horizontal plane, while earlier images from Cassini in 2009 captured Daphnis stirring vertical waves in the rings.

Saturn has an extensive ring system that extends out to 282,000km away from the planet, or about three quarters of the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The rings that surround Daphnis have a grainy texture, which come from particles clumping together.

A faint, narrow tendril of ring material follows just behind Daphnis (to its left). "This is possibly due to the movement of fine ring particles being spread out into the gap following Daphnis' last close approach to that edge on a previous orbit".

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In comparison to the otherwise sharp edges of the Keeler Gap, the wave peak in the gap edge at left has a softened appearance. 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. Invisible against the bright backdrop, the up to one-mile tall waves revealed themselves indirectly as shadows cast against the outer rings during Saturn's equinox, as seen below. This may have resulted from a moment when Daphnis drew a packet of material out of the ring, and now that packet is spreading itself out.

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

As it nears the end of its mission, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been going in to get close-ups of Saturn's rings.