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Posted: 8/22/2005 1:03:28 PM EDT

Rings Too Good for Saturn, Have Own Atmosphere
By Bjorn Carey
Space Staff Writer
posted: 17 August, 2005
2:20 pm ET


New data from the Cassini spacecraft indicates that Saturn’s trademark rings have their own atmosphere, separate from the gas around the planet they encircle.



During close fly-bys of the rings, instruments on Cassini detected that the environment around the rings is atmosphere-like. More interestingly, though, is that the ring atmosphere is made up of molecular oxygen – two atoms of oxygen bonded together – like that found in Earth’s atmosphere.



The ice that makes up Saturn’s rings is also the source of the oxygen that makes up this atmosphere.



“As water comes off the rings, it is split by sunlight; the resulting hydrogen and atomic oxygen are then lost, leaving molecular oxygen,” said Cassini investigator Andrew Coates of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London.



Saturn’s rings are made up mostly of water ice along with small amounts of dust and rocky bits. Ultraviolet rays from the Sun pry the water molecules loose from the rings and split them into their building blocks – hydrogen and the two forms of oxygen – by a process called photodissociation.



The ring atmosphere is probably kept in place by gravitational forces, Coates says. The check-and-balance between the loss of material from the ring system and a re-supply from the ring particles also helps.



Although the rings are about 155,343 miles (250,000 kilometers) in diameter, they are actually quite thin, less than a mile (1.5 kilometers). And even though the rings appear gigantic, there actually isn’t a whole lot to them. If all the rings were squeezed into one solid ring, it would be no more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) across.



Sky-watchers have gazed at Saturn’s rings for centuries, but the rings’ origin is still somewhat of a mystery. Initially, scientists thought that the rings formed from swirling clouds of cosmic gas around the same time as the planets about 4 billion years ago. The current belief, however, is that they are only a few hundred million years old.



Other theories suggest that the rings were formed by various asteroid collisions with Saturn’s moons or from broken-up comets.



The rings are not stable and are constantly regenerated, most likely from the break-up of Saturn’s satellites.



The ring system’s oxygen atmosphere differs drastically from the atmosphere of Saturn itself – Saturn’s atmosphere is 91 percent hydrogen by mass.



The instruments aboard Cassini that registered the rings’ atmosphere were the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer – operated by the United States and Germany – and the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer, which is operated by the US, Finland, France, Hungary, Norway, and the United Kingdom



Link Posted: 8/22/2005 1:07:24 PM EDT
So ... is there any location within the ring system where an oxygen-rich environment AND gravity in the neighborhood of 0.2 - 1.0 Earth gravity exists? If so, are there precious minerals to be mined? Can water be drawn from the ice and used for basic needs? Hmm ... interesting ...
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 1:08:09 PM EDT
Very interesting..

I wouldn't recommend taking a helmet off.
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 1:13:22 PM EDT

Originally Posted By DzlBenz:
So ... is there any location within the ring system where an oxygen-rich environment AND gravity in the neighborhood of 0.2 - 1.0 Earth gravity exists? If so, are there precious minerals to be mined? Can water be drawn from the ice and used for basic needs? Hmm ... interesting ...



No to gravity, and out there water ice is more precious than any mineral.

But how much radiation is there? Cassini found that we will never be able to do anything with most of Jupiters space because of the amount of radiation Jupiter throws off.
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 1:18:33 PM EDT

Originally Posted By ArmdLbrl:
No to gravity, and out there water ice is more precious than any mineral.



Yeah, but water, we got. There must be some gravity to hold the rings in place. While the fragments of the rings themselves have negligible mass to greate a significant gravitational effect, I should think that there would be some effect still from the close proximity to Saturn itself. Maybe not, or the rings would have crashed into the planet long ago, huh?


Originally Posted By ArmdLbrl:
But how much radiation is there? Cassini found that we will never be able to do anything with most of Jupiters space because of the amount of radiation Jupiter throws off.

Yeah, herein lies the rub. Even IF there was some gravity and a compelling commercial reason to go there, would the shielding required for human expeditions cost too much weight-wise to make it practical?
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 1:20:01 PM EDT
It wont be long before we are mining the rings for oxygen and water before long trips out of the solarsystem.
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:00:41 PM EDT

Yeah, but water, we got. There must be some gravity to hold the rings in place. While the fragments of the rings themselves have negligible mass to greate a significant gravitational effect, I should think that there would be some effect still from the close proximity to Saturn itself. Maybe not, or the rings would have crashed into the planet long ago, huh


Ummm.. that was NOT the gravity he was talking about. He was talking about is there anything there with gravity enough to hold YOU on IT. Actually there are a couple moons that might suffice, but it would be easier just to do your own "gravity" with a rotating habitat.

And no water is NOT something that is common in space. And its needed for both living and for rocket fuel. Its not practical to haul substantial quantities of the stuff from Earth.
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:06:58 PM EDT

Originally Posted By ArmdLbrl:

Yeah, but water, we got. There must be some gravity to hold the rings in place. While the fragments of the rings themselves have negligible mass to greate a significant gravitational effect, I should think that there would be some effect still from the close proximity to Saturn itself. Maybe not, or the rings would have crashed into the planet long ago, huh


Ummm.. that was NOT the gravity he was talking about. He was talking about is there anything there with gravity enough to hold YOU on IT. Actually there are a couple moons that might suffice, but it would be easier just to do your own "gravity" with a rotating habitat.

And no water is NOT something that is common in space. And its needed for both living and for rocket fuel. Its not practical to haul substantial quantities of the stuff from Earth.

I was just commenting that water, in and of itself, isn't really worth going out into deep space for. I was thinking more in terms of commercial value of minerals or other things that are scarce on Earth, and worth bringing back. Of course, as I alluded to in my initial post, water is essential for any prolonged presence away from Earth. I'm still trying to figure out if there's anything in those rings worth going after, or if this is another "because it's there" venture. I suppose even if it does turn out to be a "because it's there" venture, the presence of water and and atmosphere (perhaps containing gases suitable for combustion processes if not breatable) do alleviate the need to haul everthing we'll need all the way out there. Well, in the long term, anyway.
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:13:03 PM EDT
Ahh I see other people frequent SPACE.com as well.

Yeah that is a very interesting discovery. Rings are mostly water with an O2 atmosphere, and Saturn's atmosphere is pretty much Hydrogen. Sounds like the perfect place for a refuling station...
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:18:10 PM EDT
Giant rings with their own atmosphere... HALO? IT'S A WEAPON!
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:19:33 PM EDT

Originally Posted By DzlBenz:

Originally Posted By ArmdLbrl:

Yeah, but water, we got. There must be some gravity to hold the rings in place. While the fragments of the rings themselves have negligible mass to greate a significant gravitational effect, I should think that there would be some effect still from the close proximity to Saturn itself. Maybe not, or the rings would have crashed into the planet long ago, huh


Ummm.. that was NOT the gravity he was talking about. He was talking about is there anything there with gravity enough to hold YOU on IT. Actually there are a couple moons that might suffice, but it would be easier just to do your own "gravity" with a rotating habitat.

And no water is NOT something that is common in space. And its needed for both living and for rocket fuel. Its not practical to haul substantial quantities of the stuff from Earth.

I was just commenting that water, in and of itself, isn't really worth going out into deep space for. I was thinking more in terms of commercial value of minerals or other things that are scarce on Earth, and worth bringing back. Of course, as I alluded to in my initial post, water is essential for any prolonged presence away from Earth. I'm still trying to figure out if there's anything in those rings worth going after, or if this is another "because it's there" venture. I suppose even if it does turn out to be a "because it's there" venture, the presence of water and and atmosphere (perhaps containing gases suitable for combustion processes if not breatable) do alleviate the need to haul everthing we'll need all the way out there. Well, in the long term, anyway.



Saturn really is not as valuable to us, except in the very long term, as the Moon itself is frankly.

The Moon has Aluminum, Iron, and a unbelievable amount (at least compared to here on Earth) of Titanium. And no worries about enviromental side effects- since the Moon doesn't have a enviroment.

Although some more work needs to be done, what we know the Moon has in the way of minerals is limited to what the Apollo missions brought back from surface collectons and from satellite scans. No one has sent a drill rig to find what is buried in the Moons solid portions.

But finding water out there makes Saturn a much more attractive fuel stop, on the way to more attractive places like the Oort Coud where their could be stuff to send back.

Sending back stuff to Earth is itself only a short term way to pay for what is really needed, which is to export people...

Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:31:22 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 37Victor:
Giant rings with their own atmosphere... HALO? IT'S A WEAPON!



Look on the bright side: Protectors probably had nothing to do with this particular ring.

"Look, they don't have any defenses! How are they supposed to- HOLY FRICK! THE SUN JUST SHOT A GIANT FUCKING LASER BEAM AT US!"
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:33:46 PM EDT
Actually my first thought when I saw this was "Where's Larry Niven"...
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:51:48 PM EDT



Sending back stuff to Earth is itself only a short term way to pay for what is really needed, which is to export people...




If I could choose what to do for a living, finding and exploring places to export people would be at the top of the list.
Link Posted: 8/22/2005 2:54:15 PM EDT
They say Uranus has a gaseous atmosphere.
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