This photo shows a unique phenomenon on Saturn’s rings

NASA took pictures of Saturn and its rings. Nothing that special so far. However, the photo shows a very rare phenomenon, the origin of which is still mysterious: ring rays.

Saturn is certainly one of the most famous planets in the solar system thanks to its famous rings. But in addition to being very photogenic, these rings are a valuable source of information about the gas planet. However, the latest photo of Saturn taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a very rare phenomenon: ring rays.

The photo, which was taken on October 22, 2023, was just published on December 21 Hubble’s account of Xand also on the NASA website. It is on the latter that we learn more details about the history of the cliché — and especially about those famous ring rays (ring rays in English). In the photo, the rays ” degraded gray spots along rings » — a phenomenon that is still mysterious to NASA researchers.

New image of Saturn shared on X. // Source: Screenshot X @NasaHubble

The Mysterious Origin of the Rays on Saturn’s Rings

But what is it really about? According to NASA, “ these rays are likely levitating dust or ice caused by interactions between Saturn’s magnetic field and solar wind particles “.

The famous ring rays or
The famous ring rays or “rays” seen in Saturn’s rings. // Source: NASA
In two photos we see the change in the position of the rays on the rings of Saturn // Source: NASA
In two photos we see the change in the position of the rays on the rings of Saturn. // Source: NASA

However, the origin of these spots remains uncertain. Indeed, “ When Saturn is near the equinox, the planet and its rings are less inclined to the Sun. In this configuration, the solar wind can hit Saturn’s huge magnetic field more strongly, promoting jet formation. ” explains Amy Simon, NASA researcher.

According to NASA scientists, the contact between the solar winds and the magnetic field would generate “ electrostatic forces ‘, which would levitate dust and ice above the rings, creating beams. But at the moment it is only a hypothesis – which research scientists may soon confirm for good.

A rare and sometimes invisible phenomenon

Studying these rays is still new to NASA and complicated by their nature. In fact, they are not visible all the time: depending on the time, the distance from the planet and the seasons from Saturn beams move and sometimes disappear. Although they seem small compared to Saturn and the rest of the rings, the length and width of the rays. may exceed the diameter of the Earth “.

According to NASA, these rays “ are transition elements that rotate with rings. Their appearance persists for only two or three rotations around Saturn. During periods of activity, freshly formed rays are constantly added to the pattern. »

Although first photographed by Voyager 2 in 1981, ring rays still remain quite mysterious. Images collected by Hubble first showed that the rays appeared “ on the morning (left) side of the rings “, but ” this year, these ephemeral structures appear simultaneously on both sides of the planet “.

However, the incidence of rays should increase in the coming years. ” We are headed for the Saturn equinox Amy Simon explains. ” We expect maximum jet activity with higher frequency and darker jets to appear within the next few years. » A blessing for scientists who will be able to study them more deeply.

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