Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bicycling across the ring plane

The rings of Saturn have to be one of the most bizarre and spectacular structures in the solar system. Like a vinyl record nearly 130,000 miles across, they were one of the first things Galileo discovered when he peered through his telescope.

I always wondered what this huge disc made of ice chunks looked like up close. Since I love to check in to the Cassini site to see the latest, if there's a new view I look at the scale, usually in miles per pixel to get an idea how big the structures are.

It's getting closer. This picture, cropped from here, is a little under a half-mile per pixel. I added the little bracket, 10 pixels wide, which is about the length of my daily commute. My guess is that these ridges would appear like low hills if I could float next to the ring plane.

Cassini is due to pass through the plane next week, and again in the spring. I hope we'll get ever closer views of this amazing object.

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