A team of researchers led by Greek scientist Elias Rousso discovered a new radiation belt around Saturn, close to the planet and composed of energetic particles. They found that while the belt actually intersects with the innermost ring, the ring is so tenuous that it doesn’t block the belt from forming.
According to everything scientists know about how planetary magnetic fields are generated, Saturn should not have one and it is now a mystery that physicists will be working to solve.
Last year the Cassini spacecraft dove repeatedly between Saturn and its rings and now six teams of researchers published their new research based on Cassini’s final days there.
Cassini also found molecules, including methane and dust grains falling from Saturn’s rings into its atmosphere, suggesting that the rings and the planet interact more closely than scientists had suspected.
“There were many surprises,” said Roussos.
In addition to Roussos, participants in the study included the Office of Space Research and Technology of the Academy of Athens and the team led by Professor Stamatis Krimigis, another notable Greek space exploration scientist. The paper presents the discovery of a new belt of proton radiation that has formed at a very short distance from the planet, limited by the atmosphere at its inner edge and the D-ring at its outer boundary, while it is almost completely isolated from the rest of Saturn's magnetosphere.
"A small quantity of dust in the D-ring would allow very intense particle radiation to develop that would create a problem for Cassini," said Dr. Nick Sergis, a scientific associate of the Office of Space Research that also contributed to the scientific paper, talking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency. "The opposite, namely a dense D-ring that would absorb the protons quickly, would not allow the creation of such a belt," Sergis said.
The observation of the new radiation belt in Saturn adds to a series of discoveries made by the Cassini mission in which the MIMI experiment has contributed, with the participation of the Office of Space Research and Technology of the Academy of Athens.
"The MIMI team has published almost 200 articles in magazines and books in the last 14 years, 45 of them headed by Greek scientists of the team. These articles do not only refer to substantial discoveries about Saturn's magnetosphere but also its moons, its rings, and even its heliosphere," stated Professor Stamatis Krimigis, head of the experiment and co-author of the article.
*Image source: NASA