NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has made a big name for itself by being a reliable source of really awesome photographs of parts of Saturn and its moons that humans had never seen before, along with crucial scientific readings and observations. Now, researchers are again surprised by what Cassini is telling them, but it’s for the complete opposite reason: it found pretty much nothing, and that’s a bigger deal than you might think.
When Cassini made its first dive between Saturn’s rings last week, NASA was worried that, because of the assumed presence of dust in the are of the dive, the craft could sustain damage. Now, after studying the data collected during that first daring trip through the rings, scientists are scratching their heads over the fact that the presumed dusty area is actually pretty baren. The space where Cassini flew through is so dust-free that researchers have taken to calling it “the big empty,” and suggest that their initial models and forecasts for the presence of dust were way, way off.
When Cassini made its first dive, the spacecraft’s handlers angled it in such a way as to protect certain parts of the craft from the pummeling effects of the particles they thought were there. Instead, the craft cruised through with just a handful of dust particle impacts, and now scientists have to figure out exactly what the area is so devoid of debris that should, in theory, be there.
Cassini’s second dive is schedule to take place today, and should produce some more interesting observations about Saturn and its rings, so we’ll just have to wait and see.