During Cassini's final, spectacular months, in situ instruments made the first direct measurements of nanoparticles, finding an exceptionally large flow from the rings into Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer measured material in three altitude bands and found a global-integrated flux of 2–20 × 104 kg/s that is dominated by hydrocarbon material <104u. Ranging from clusters of a few molecules to radii of several nanometers, nanoparticles are ubiquitous throughout Saturn's rings but embedded in the regolith of larger particles and not detectable as independent particles using remote observations. The smallest nanoparticles are susceptible to atmosphere drag by Saturn's tenuous exosphere that reaches the inner edge of the D ring. The unsustainable large flux suggests a recent disturbance of Saturn's inner ring material, possibly associated with the clumping that appeared in the D68 ringlet in 2015.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)