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Kilometer-High Waves Flow In Saturn's Rings

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the surfing-the-A-ring dept.

Space 31

An anonymous reader sends along a Cosmos Magazine piece on the discovery by NASA's Cassini probe of vertical structures in Saturn's rings, 150 times as high as the rings are thick. The structures were seen because a once-every-15-years orientation of the rings caused vertical features to cast visible shadows. "NASA's Cassini probe has uncovered for the first time towering vertical structures in Saturn's otherwise flat rings that are attributable to the gravitational effects of a small moon. 'We thought that this vertical structure was pretty neat when we first saw it in our simulations,' said John Weiss, the paper's lead author at the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations in the US city of Boulder, Colorado. 'But it's a million times cooler to have your theory supported by such gorgeous images. It makes you suspect you might be doing something right,' he added." Update: 06/17 19:29 GMT by KD : The CICLOPS team sent a note correcting the attribution of the quote; the linked article also had it wrong, and has since been corrected.

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kilometre high first post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28343843)

Check out the size of my kilometre high first post! :D

Jews did 9/11 (-1, Troll)

Luke727 (547923) | more than 5 years ago | (#28343849)


Re:Jews did 9/11 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28344093)

Forgot to hit the "post anonymously" button again, bigot?

Nice pictures... (5, Informative)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 5 years ago | (#28343877)

The Cassini site has a bunch of nice high resolution photos.
Go take a look. They're great!

Re:Nice pictures... (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28343893)

Thank you. The original article is apparently Slashdoted.

Re:Nice pictures... (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28343923)

Thanks for the link. I considered submitting the story myself, but it seemed to much self-advertisement.

Re:Nice pictures... (5, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28343949)

Oh, an other versions:
Discovery Channel []

Bad Astronomy []

But CICLOPS has the main story. (And should be able to take a reasonable Slashdotting, these days.)

Re:Nice pictures... (2, Insightful)

volcanopele (537152) | more than 5 years ago | (#28344195)

CC, don't worry too much about the self-advertisement. If you find something cool, and you think people here might be interested, it never hurts to submit the story. For example, I submitted the story about the Titan playas, though it wasn't approved, probably because I submitted it to the wrong place.

Re:Nice pictures... (3, Funny)

ocularDeathRay (760450) | more than 5 years ago | (#28343971)

To put this in perspective, the waves in Saturn's rings are huge,
but not quite as big as the wave of server failures happening right now at

Re:Nice pictures... (2, Funny)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 5 years ago | (#28344011)

Well, now that I got my serious post out of the way. Did anyone else think that /. was linking to an article from COSMO? I did a double take while the page failed to load.

Re:Nice pictures... (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28344157)

No, but I'd expect Cosmo to do better journalism.

(I'm assuming that the quote that Slashdot has at the end of the summary is straight from Cosmos magazine. It's fairly mangled.)

Re:Nice pictures... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28344013)

The universe made some hairless monkeys to amuse itself.

Re:Nice pictures... (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28348039)

Having finally gotten to the Cosmos story, I'm going to repeat my recommendation to head to the source. (Which is almost always a good idea, anyway.) The Cosmos story managed to mangle the quote and you might as well get the original story before the telephone game has taken hold.

I noticed the cowabunga tag on this article. (2, Funny)

petrus4 (213815) | more than 5 years ago | (#28344537)

When did Michaelangelo start reading Slashdot? Beware if so, fellow Slashdotters; nobody's pizza will be safe!

Resolve the rings (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28344671)

Anyone in this audience with actual knowledge of the policies and planning for Cassini missions? If so I some questions.

The primary mission of Cassini ended recently and the extended mission has just begun. Yet only now are we beginning to receive imagery of detailed ring structure. Since the primary mission has ended it is apparent that obtaining detailed images of ring structure was never a priority. All of the time has been spent on the moons, Saturn and relatively wide shots of the rings.

Is resolving the ring constituents even feasible for Cassini? I can see from the flight schedule that close up passes of some sheppard moons will occur in 2010. Will attempts be made to image the detailed structure of the rings at this time?

I know the rings are largely particulate; a fog of ice particles. However there are larger constituents and some regions where large, dense matter is suspected. Obviously there is high risk to Cassini attempting directly image such objects. Yet this mission is finite and perhaps, primary goals having been fulfilled, some riskier goals should be considered.

Re:Resolve the rings (5, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28346353)

I am involved with planning the Cassini mission and, in fact, helped plan the images in the current story.

Yet only now are we beginning to receive imagery of detailed ring structure.

You're starting from a mistaken premise. We've been getting detailed images of the rings for the entire mission. In fact, the highest resolution images of the rings to date (probably ever) occurred during orbit insertion at the very beginning of the prime mission.

Since the primary mission has ended it is apparent that obtaining detailed images of ring structure was never a priority.

Nope, rings is a major priority and drives the mission around 20%. (Depending on how you quantify that.)

All of the time has been spent on the moons, Saturn and relatively wide shots of the rings.

Again, blatantly false. Any time we're out of the equatorial plane of Saturn (as we are now and have been many times during the mission to date), we're studying the rings and the magnetosphere (and Saturn, but they tend to be a bit less insistent on this geometry). There are many close-ups of the rings available. Have you looked for them? They're all over at CICLOPS [] , if you do a search. Or even browse images, really.

Is resolving the ring constituents even feasible for Cassini?

No, we can't get close enough to resolve a 1-m body.

I can see from the flight schedule that close up passes of some sheppard moons will occur in 2010. Will attempts be made to image the detailed structure of the rings at this time?

Yes and no. At the time of flyby, we're in the ringplane and cannot see the rings very well at all. Near that time, I'm sure we'll take images of the rings. As we have always done.

I know the rings are largely particulate; a fog of ice particles.

Not the main rings, no. The main rings are ~30-cm to ~3-m bodies. And there is almost no way to get close enough to image these. It's not even a matter of risk, it's a matter of having to be far, far too close to what amounts to a solid wall of ring. And what good would imaging a few particles in one location do compared to destroying the spacecraft in the process? Apart from satisfying you need to see even closer up to the rings?

Re:Resolve the rings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28359103)

Well, my theoratical physics professor would love to see a flythrough of Cassini through the rings for the high solution pics and data it would bring. But he's especially concerned to Enceladus and the E-Rings, so he wouldn't mind flying as close as possible to Enceladus for some more interesting data...
After all with the planned mission end coming nearer and nearer why shouldn't one try to make a few passes until the spacecraft will eventually 'die' anyways...

Re:Resolve the rings (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361413)

We have (and will again) flown through the Enceladus plume.

And the spacecraft can't be allowed to die on an orbit that intersects Enceladus's. We don't want to risk contaminating any potential Enceladan environment with terrestrial microbes and plutonium. The End of Mission scenario we're aiming for right now (it hasn't been approved yet) is to plant the spacecraft in the planet. Those last orbits (inside the D ring) will be glorious.

budgets for long lasting missions.... (3, Interesting)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 5 years ago | (#28346073)

What I notice is that the primary mission has finished and I just bet that the men in suits are circling the project with their budget cutting shears - but then we get new data, stunning imagary and confirmation of old predicitons.

This just goes to show that given the cost of assembling and launching this missions it makes absolute sense to supply funding until the mission carks it. What would of happened if the budgets for the two Mars rovers was removed after the (very short) planned life cycle was finished?

So, does anybody know how long term budgets are assigned, reviewed and extended to cover missions that exceed their predicted life span? I'm kinds interested.

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (4, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28346369)

We have to apply for extended missions by putting together a plan and pitching what we're going to do. ("More of the same," is generally frowned upon, naturally.) If the mission is healthy and the plan seems reasonable, they'll approve it. From what I've seen (I'm still pretty young in the field), they tend to be pretty favorable to healthy missions, though, so odds seem good of extension. It's pretty much expected that missions will survive their prime missions since those tend to be conservative estimates for life expectancy.

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (4, Interesting)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 5 years ago | (#28346513)

Are the conservative estimates an example of the Scotty factor. In other words if the team is 90% confident that the mission will last 5 months do they then quote 3 to management - that way if they mission carks it after 4 then they are still covered? I would imagine even the scientists and engineers are very concerned about managerial aspect like project tracking and meeting specification now.

More to the point, how do they estimate such a difficult and unpredictable mission parameter anyhow? I mean somethings like battery life, wear and tear and so on must be quite well understood, but others like the stress of launch, damage, and the great "other" option must be much harder to predict.

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (5, Interesting)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28346707)

It's not so much the Scotty factor as standard engineering procedure for years. If you're told to design an elevator to life 5 people, you make sure it can hold 10 just to be safe. If the design requirements from NASA say "Four years", you design for 6 or 8. You don't want to be penalized for early failure, after all.

And I don't know how the engineers estimate life expectancies, but most components aren't mission-enders. You worry mostly about things like fuel/reaction mass and power sources, first. These are relatively predictable. Other parts that fail generally seem to do so gradually. (Electronics degradation, the reaction wheels on Cassini, etc.) So while you wouldn't necessarily have predicted that a priori, you can track it once it starts to happen.

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | more than 5 years ago | (#28349353)

I imagine they use a lot of data from previous missions with similar equipment. Also backup systems for critical systems. And for the unpredictable- go with the movie "Armageddon"- "You're NASA, don't you just sit around and think shit up?!" I can see a guy in an office with the title "Office of Thinking How Shit Can Go Wrong", and he tries to prevent it. And if there is some plan filed away dealing with Space Dragons, give that dude a medal!

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28349489)

This is mostly true, at least for flagship missions like Cassini. Almost every system has a full backup. (Except the high-gain antenna, apparently.) The instruments, not so much, but only one of those is mission-critical. (Maybe two, depending how you count things.)

And you know dragons, what can you do?

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | more than 5 years ago | (#28350319)

I pretty much figured as much from what I've read. I was surprised to read that the wasn't backup in the instruments, but then they take up a whole lot more room than a couple batteries and wiring. And they need surface space to expose themselves. I can see the antenna as it probably takes up a good bit of space to pack away (actually, I have no idea as I'm not an antenna guy, but I figure they have to have some size from that far away).

Space dragons fear space cats, but the catnip always runs out way too early.

Re:budgets for long lasting missions.... (2, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28350629)

The high gain antenna on Cassini doesn't pack away, it's a solid dish. (Unlike Galileo, then. Also, this one works...) I'm not 100% certain why they made that design choice (way, way before my time), but it has the benefit of being useful as a shield when they plot through potentially hazardous areas, like dusty rings.

And you don't really back up instruments because no one instrument is really vital to the entire mission. If we lost the ability to do IR spectrascopy, it would be quite a blow, sure. But other instruments would go on and get a lot of results anyway. You lose the engine and you're basically done.

(The one exception on Cassini is the imaging science instrument. It has the highest resolution and is regarded as vital for navigating the spacecraft. I'm not certain that they couldn't work around a failure on ISS, but they really, really don't want to. Also, RSS is basically the high gain antenna, as I understand it, so I'm not sure if it's possible to (effectively) lose RSS and still talk to the spacecraft.)

That said, NASA/JPL does everything it can to preserve the instruments because each one *does* contribute valuable and unique science. You don't want to lose any of them, of course. Fortunately, I suspect that protecting them may be a bit easier than the engineering components. The instruments tend to have very few moving parts, for one thing.

Seeing as no one else has said it (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#28346879)

Surf's up!!!!!!

Re:Seeing as no one else has said it (1)

cboslin (1532787) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368379)

Note a very long post with some excellent images and some interesting thoughts, hope you enjoy reading it more than I did creating it! Enjoy!

I was thinking it! I bet hundreds of others were too! Though others will think us off topic, I would disagree. Imagine!

Whenever I have driven across the USA, in a car, and looked at the hills in the desert, I imagined being the silver surfer [] (home page [] ) with that silver hover board of his, slashing across the mountains side walls, especially where there is a half circle bowl [] (a concrete bowl [] ) where your speed would increase as you spanned it. (Note: a Bowl shape, easy to see when you are in the wave is not obvious from the front. The sides stick out farther than the middle and with the wave breaking on one side toward the bowl shape, you can whip around it and greatly increase your speed.)

Anyone know of a hover surf board? Able to catch a big wave [] .

The wipe-outs would be particularly gnarly [] , think cactus and think beyond ouch!

Gnarly is when you've gone beyond radical, beyond extreme, it's balls out danger, & or perfection, & or skill or all of that combined. This one would be considered fun [] , not gnarly, lol. Here is gnarly [] , yep he is going over, wonder if he knows it yet?

Here is what you do not want to see in the tube or wave with you, a Great White shark [] ! The funny thing is that Fergal Smith did NOT know the Great White shark was there when he was surfing, the photographer, Phil Gallagher, showed him later after he was finished surfing.

The holidaymaker only realized his close encounter [] when photographer Phil Gallagher showed him the photo of the shark lurking under the water in front of Mr. Smithâ(TM)s surfboard.

Mavericks pumping, this looks gnarly from that perspective but is probably not from the surfers perspective. Maveriks is off the northern tip of Half Moon Bay and about 40 minutes south of San Francisco. []

Some more beautiful waves and images around Hawaii [] circa January 2008.

. . . but the bar was causing waves to cross up with each other making for some impossible take offs, not to mention the fact that you could be surfing a wave and then be on dry sand in a second, a sensation which would equate to something like dropping off a cliff straight [] into a washing machine.

Having surfed 15 to 19 foot faces (ocean waves generated by a Hurricane still +12 hours away) back when I was a competitive swimmer and was actually held under (and down) until I thought my lungs would burst. The thought of surfing a 30 footer, (estimating 20 to 35 foot face [] ), 50 footer, much less a hundred foot wave is something I have difficulty wrapping my mind around. So thinking miles high is not any easier, lol, Youch! (Tubed in Australia [] ; Head High Pipeline Tubes, Hawaii [] ; est 8 to 10 foot face)

I remember watching Jerry Lopez [] , a Pipeline legend getting buried so deep, for so long I did not ever think he was going to blow out the end on his board, but he almost always did, amazing to watch!

Give me a personal protection shield, a homing beacon and enough oxygen to let me survive for days or weeks while I am rescued and I might consider it. Considering and doing are two different things.

Told one of my sons, when he was 10, to invent Shielding for Space Craft, like on Star Trek and the world would be his oyster. Still waiting to try out his first model and not holding my breath! lol.

They use Jet Skis to pull surfers into very large waves, what would you use to pull you into one of those waves? Perhaps a UFO, they will take their pay in time with your body to perform a medical exam, lol?

Assuming UFOs exist, not going into that here as that would be off topic; and the UFOs have the capability to blink and move from one spot to another. I would want that technology as well. At the point of wipe-out, blink-you, your board, your leash and you are instantly transported to a safe place in space.

Joke would be on the surfer if they ended up in a different reality, billions of miles away or in a different time due to some anomaly [] . You would not have to worry about anyone saying, Your on Candid Camera or You just got punk d.

Next time you are driving through the desert where there are hills, check out the shapes, imagine being on a hover-surfboard, like the silver surfer and slashing over the hills and terrain, just above the surface.

Than imagine trying to surf something 150 times higher. No wait too small, multiply it by another 150 times, probably even higher! No still higher, you get the idea.

If you got tubed [] , (tube ridden deep [] ) you better speed up and get out before it collapses, that would be gnarly.

Probably not much consolation prize [] , especially considering that it would be the last thing that you ever see through physical eyes, just saying.

A tube from yet another perspective [] . Even better, a 60 second plus tube ride, caught on Video and timed by the Camera guy, still pictures here [] , amazing as I have been covered for mere seconds, say three to six tops and sometimes did not even know I was covered until someone paddling out told me. I can NOT imagine a 60 second tube ride, but would enjoy it immensely. I have heard about long rides, but this is the longest inside a tube I have ever heard of.

I know this post is too long already, but if you are a surfer, you will appreciate this quote from a surfer who was in a tube a long time, his friend had the 60 second plus tube ride, which he said was longer than his. Amazing [] !

got this one really memorable wave there, last season. It was right on dark and I had gone back out to get a good one. So I was just waiting and waiting for the right one. My friends were all sitting on the beach drinking beers; these Aussie guys I was travelling with who were really good surfers. So finally this sick one comes and I'm in the right spot and I go. I pulled in almost immediately, and got a nice long pit, dragging my arm to slow down, just standing right in the eye of it through the easy section. Then it hit the first heavy section of reef, and I had to pull in without ever making it completely out of the first tube. So I didn't get that little burst of speed; I was too far back. It pitched this huge section and it looked like a closeout tube. I couldn't see the exit anymore; I was way behind the bend in the barrel, nothing to see but water and lip. I could see foam ahead of me, and that's a bad sign. But I kept with it and went high and it was big enough in there to pump a little bit and get speed. After a few seconds I could see an exit up ahead. I remember thinking, "I might make this oneï½ how cool would that be?" But right as I got to the exit, before I could make it out, another huge section heaved. Same deal - no chance to pump into it, no exit in sight, foam up ahead. I was way behind the bend. But as the wave went down the reef it started getting bigger and hollower, and I suddenly had enough room to pump and get some speed. And I could see that exit up ahead again. I could see a little bit of the hills and sky. I remember realizing I needed to breathe, cause I had been holding my breath so long, and I took this long sucking breath. I began thinking, "Damn, if I make this it will easily be my longest pit of my trip." But right as I get to the exit, same fucking story. This evil, evil section shuts down on me and I'm hopelessly deep in the tube. Thinking, "Fucker! I could of made it, so closeï½" But I had written myself off twice already, and made the sections, so I just held on. It got tighter and tighter in there, and my fins started to drift down onto the foamball. When that happens, you're usually done. Your fins cavitate in the foam and you spin out and get clipped. So my fins started to spin out. I lost all drive, just stopped. And like in slow-motion, right as that happened, the wave just spit the full fire hose spit. It stung my face and I couldn't see anything in the mist. But I guess it spit so hard that it pushed me up off the foamball, right as the wave opened up wide again. My vision cleared and I was way up high, almost in the lip, but my fins bit in and I pumped low and then high again and got this huge burst of speed and suddenly I was in the sweet spot again, just flying, exit up ahead. Not thinking anything at this point, just reacting. The tube getting bigger and wider, I was standing straight up in it. Two more times, right as I was about to exit the tube and kick out and seal the deal, another section heaved. Not as sketchy as those other times, but sketchy. I just stayed with it and stayed with it and finally it let me out clean. I kicked out and just kind of sat there for a minute, tripping. So far down the reef that I couldn't see the top of the point or any other surfers. I went in and walked up the beach as darkness fell. I got back to my friends and they didn't say a word to me. I didn't say anything either. What was there to say? We drove off and about an hour later, my friend Gonz turned to me and muttered real quiet, almost sadly, "Fuck mate. That might've been the best barrel I've ever seen."

Remember his friend, Camel, rode a longer one than the one above. And yes I am jealous, but I will let it go as I always do and wistfully imagine.

Imagine having a hover surfboard, shield, plenty of food and oxygen surfing around Saturn, around the rings, how long would that take? Years? Lol. Imagine, its good for you!

I would call this an exotic, once in 15 year break, lol.

Weiss is borderline crazy (2, Interesting)

nobdoor (1496229) | more than 5 years ago | (#28348007)

I had him as my Physics 2 prof during my undergrad years.

One thing I never understood about him was his compulsion to call 'derivatives'...'potatoes'. Take the potato here. Reverse potato here. The solution is the potato. Coupled with his thick european (swiss maybe?) accent, it made for one of the bigger WTF moments in my college career.

Re:Weiss is borderline crazy (3, Interesting)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28348145)

Except I've never taught Physics 2 to you or to anyone else.

Although I do love me my potatoes. Maybe you're from the future? Did you bring back stock tips? Or future-potatoes?

Re:Weiss is borderline crazy (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 5 years ago | (#28352975)

So I either believe you, and this Weiss guy is a regular person, or I believe him, and he's (you're) an excentric who replaces words randomly.
Yeah, I'll stick with the funny version. I suggest you do too.
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