Cassini returns detailed views of Saturn’s rings

NASA’s Cassini probe at Saturn returns amazing views of the outer rings as it makes its final orbits before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere on September 15th :

Close Views Show Saturn’s Rings in Unprecedented Detail

Newly released images showcase the incredible closeness with which NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, now in its “Ring-Grazing” orbits phase, is observing Saturn’s dazzling rings of icy debris.

This Cassini image features a density wave in Saturn’s A ring (at left) that lies around 134,500 km from Saturn. Density waves are accumulations of particles at certain distances from the planet. This feature is filled with clumpy perturbations, which researchers informally refer to as “straw.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute › Full image and caption

The views are some of the closest-ever images of the outer parts of the main rings, giving scientists an eagerly awaited opportunity to observe features with names like “straw” and “propellers.” Although Cassini saw these features earlier in the mission, the spacecraft’s current, special orbits are now providing opportunities to see them in greater detail. The new images resolve details as small as 0.3 miles (550 meters), which is on the scale of Earth’s tallest buildings.

Cassini is now about halfway through its penultimate mission phase — 20 orbits that dive past the outer edge of the main ring system. The ring-grazing orbits began last November, and will continue until late April, when Cassini begins its grand finale. During the 22 finale orbits, Cassini will repeatedly plunge through the gap between the rings and Saturn. The first finale plunge is scheduled for April 26.

This image from NASA’s Cassini mission shows a region in Saturn’s A ring. The level of detail is twice as high as this part of the rings has ever been seen before. The view contains many small, bright blemishes due to cosmic rays and charged particle radiation near the planet. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute › Full image and caption

For now, the veteran spacecraft is shooting past the outer edges of the rings every week, gathering some of its best images of the rings and moons. Already Cassini has sent back the closest-ever views of small moons Daphnis and Pandora.

Some of the structures seen in recent Cassini images have not been visible at this level of detail since the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in mid-2004. At that time, fine details like straw and propellers — which are caused by clumping ring particles and small, embedded moonlets, respectively — had never been seen before. (Although propellers were present in Cassini’s arrival images, they were actually discovered in later analysis, the following year.)

This image shows a region in Saturn’s outer B ring. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft viewed this area at a level of detail twice as high as it had ever been observed before. And from this view, it is clear that there are still finer details to uncover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute › Full image and caption

Cassini came a bit closer to the rings during its arrival at Saturn, but the quality of those arrival images (examples: 1, 2, 3) was not as high as in the new views. Those precious few observations only looked out on the backlit side of the rings, and the team chose short exposure times to minimize smearing due to Cassini’s fast motion as it vaulted over the ring plane. This resulted in images that were scientifically stunning, but somewhat dark and noisy.

In contrast, the close views Cassini has begun capturing in its ring-grazing orbits (and soon will capture in its Grand Finale phase) are taking in both the backlit and sunlit side of the rings. Instead of just one brief pass lasting a few hours, Cassini is making several dozen passes during these final months.

“As the person who planned those initial orbit-insertion ring images — which remained our most detailed views of the rings for the past 13 years — I am taken aback by how vastly improved are the details in this new collection,” said Cassini Imaging Team Lead Carolyn Porco, of Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “How fitting it is that we should go out with the best views of Saturn’s rings we’ve ever collected.”

After nearly 13 years studying Saturn’s rings from orbit, the Cassini team has a deeper, richer understanding of what they’re seeing, but they still anticipate new surprises.

“These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn’s rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet,” said Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist who studies Saturn’s rings at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California. Tiscareno planned the new images for the camera team.

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons, and its vast magnetosphere. Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.

This image shows a region in Saturn’s outer B ring. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft viewed this area at a level of detail twice as high as it had ever been observed before. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute › Full image and caption

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Cassini imaging operations center is based at Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about Cassini, visit:


The NewSpace Club opens Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign

Dr. Anis Karim points me to an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $1000 to create the online NewSpace Club  –

There needs to be a place where people interested in outer space (whether to travel to orbit, work out there, be a student out there, vacation out there, settle on another world, or any of billions of other reasons) can contact and communicate with other people interested in outer space. What exists is woefully inadequate and frustrating and not helpful. This is why we want to create a space social network to connect space enthusiasts and ultimately realize a new life out there!

From the Indiegogo page:

Why Only $1000?

People might ask: “If you’re really serious about creating the space social network of the future, why are you asking for only $1000?”

We made this financial decision for a reason. As mentioned above, the goal of this – specific – Indiegogo campaign is to engage a community of space enthusiasts excited about the possibilities of a new life out there. This community will be our ambassadors. The $1000 will only help us launch the NewSpace Club. And, the NewSpace Club team is currently volunteering; so labor is not a factor yet.

It is true that after the NewSpace Club is launched at, we will have to hire programmers, developers and software engineers. Many IT companies started with students and volunteers before having to hire people on salary. Some of the resources our members will ask for and those we plan for will cost a lot of money, and perhaps those can be added if we have an InDemand period. Other costs will include specialized hardware, and we can invest pre-seed money in space transportation startups.

We would be very grateful if we went substantially over the $1000 goal of this Indiegogo campaign. We hope we do.

The Space Show this week – Jan.30.2017

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, Jan. 30, 2017: 2-3:30 pm PST (5-6:30 pm EST, 4-5:30 pm CST): We welcome DR. ERIC SEEDHOUSE to discuss his book about Mars One.

2. Tuesday, Jan. 31 2017: 7-8:30 pm PST, 10-11:30 pm EST, 9-10:30 pm CST: We welcome back JOAN HORVATH and RICH CAMERON to discuss what use is a consumer 3D printer. According to our guests, “At the moment there are a lot of overblown claims about 3D printing as well as people genuinely doing great stuff. What can you really do with a printer that is in the $1-3K range?”

3. Friday, Feb. 3, 2016: 9:30-11 am PST; (12:30-2 pm EST; 11:30 AM – 1 pm CST) We welcome back REX RIDENOURE, CEO Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation.

4. Sunday, Feb. 5,, 2017: 12-1:30 pm PST (3-4:30 pm EST, 2-3:30 5 pm CST): We welcome BARRY LEVIN back to the show for a continuation of his Back To The Envelope programming and 4th Industrial Revolution manufacturing as applied to the space industries.

See also:
* The Space Show on Vimeo – webinar videos
* The Space Show’s Blog – summaries of interviews.
* The Space Show Classroom Blog – tutorial programs

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
David Livingston

Sci-Tech: Hyperloop competition at SpaceX underway. Live webcast.

The university Hyperloop competition at the SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California is underway. Live webcast is available at See also Hyperloop live report – Daily Breeze | Facebook.

30 university teams are participating in the contest. The track is a hollow tube about three-quarter-mile (1.2 km) long and pumped down to low pressure. Each of the teams will run their pod vehicle down the pod. The pod performance will be evaluated on acceleration, speed, braking, etc.

[ Update: Reports on the competition results:

From Alan Boyle:

Here’s who won the Hyperloop competition’s awards:

    • Fastest team: WARR Hyperloop.
    • Highest overall score: Delft Hyperloop.
    • Safety and reliability award: MIT Hyperloop.
    • Performance and operations: University of Maryland. Honorable mention: Virginia Tech, Purdue, Hyperlift (St. John’s High School, Texas).
    • Performance in flight: WARR Hyperloop.
    • Innovation: Badgerloop (University of Wisconsin at Madison) and Team rLoop (the contest’s only non-student team, organized through Reddit). Honorable mention: VicHyper (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia).
    • Design and construction: The top 10, from 1 to 10, are Delft, WARR, MIT, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, University of Washington, Purdue, Carnegie Mellon University, Hyperlift, Keio Alpha.

A view of the MIT, Delft, and WARR pods barreling through the tube:

Comments from Elon Musk about the event (plus some words about the tunneling project):


More background at

Updates at Hyperloop (@Hyperloop) | Twitter :

“Teams in final prep for today’s @SpaceX Hyperloop competition! Coverage begins at ~1:55pm PT at #breakapod “

Here are some video reports from the test site: