NASA Cassini Discovers 'The Big Empty', Detects Puzzling 'Sound' From the Dust-Free Region Between Saturn and Its Rings
As part of its Grand Finale mission, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will complete 22 dives between Saturn and its rings. The first dive gathered surprising data including the "big empty" space between the rings where dust was previously expected to be seen.
Aside from that, Cassini allowed scientists and the public to listen to the sound in Saturn's "big empty" space as it dives between the narrow gap. The surprisingly dust-free region puzzled Cassini scientists and engineers.
"The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently," Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a press release. "Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected."
The instruments aboard Cassini are likely to survive the remaining dives in the region, which is considered a danger zone, because the "big empty" space is dust-free. Four dives will require the spacecraft to use its antenna as a shield as it passes through the innermost fringes of Saturn's rings.
Aside from collecting images, Cassini's Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) captured the sound in Saturn while making two orbits around the planet. According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, even the tiniest particles that make contact with the spacecraft's antennas will vaporize and turn into electrically charged gas. The explosions create the electrical signal that the instrument can detect and convert into audio formats. Anyone can listen to the sounds of Saturn in this NASA recording.
Here's what it sounds like when dust makes contact with Cassini:
Meanwhile, as comparison, here's what the dustless "big empty" space in between Saturn and its rings sounds like:
The "big empty" space in between Saturn and its rings came as a surprise finding for the engineers. The images captured by the Cassini spacecraft convey that the space about 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) between Saturn and its rings suggests that there won't be any large particles present that could harm the spacecraft.
This means some dives won't require the use of Cassini's antenna to shield itself from debris as it was discovered that the big empty space is apparently dust-free. More data to support the findings will come in sooner as Cassini prepares for its second dive between Saturn and its rings.