“February 21, 2017. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured these remarkable views of a propeller feature in Saturn’s A ring. These are the sharpest images taken of a propeller so far, and show an unprecedented level of detail. The propeller is nicknamed “Santos-Dumont,” after the pioneering Brazilian-French aviator. This observation was Cassini’s first targeted flyby of a propeller. The views show the object from vantage points on opposite sides of the rings. The top image looks toward the rings’ sunlit side, while the bottom image shows the unilluminated side, where sunlight filters through the backlit ring.
The two images are reprojected at the same scale (0.13 mile or 207 meters per pixel) in order to facilitate comparison. Cassini scientists have been tracking the orbit of this object for the past decade, tracing the effect that the ring has upon it. Now, as Cassini has moved in close to the ring as part of its ring-grazing orbits, it was able to obtain this extreme close-up view of the propeller, enabling researchers to examine its effects on the ring. These views, and others like them, will inform models and studies in new ways going forward.
Like a frosted window, Saturn’s rings look ...