The Cassini Mission and Saturn’s Rings

We are studying the structure, composition, and evolution of Saturn’s rings through a combination of analysis of data from the Cassini Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) and numerical modeling of the rings. We combine multiple stellar occultations to understand the three-dimensional structure of the rings in the same way doctors use CT scans to study the structure of the body. These occultations provide exquisitely detailed maps of the finest structures in the rings which we can then compare to N-body simulations to better understand the dynamics of the rings and their origins. UVIS also takes ultraviolet images of the rings which illuminate compositional variations across the rings – another clue to their origins. Cassini ended its mission with a Grand Finale series of orbits in 2017 that culminated in the spacecraft plummeting into Saturn’s atmosphere, but data from the mission will be analyzed for years to come.

Members working in this area: Colwell (faculty), Bradley (Research Scientist), James Cooney (faculty)

Graduate students: Richard Jerousek, Stephanie Grant