A new radiation belt of energetic protons between Saturn and its rings was discovered by a team of researchers led by Greek scientist Elias Roussos, a planetary scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.
The discovery was based on analysis of the initial data from the final phase of exploration by the spacecraft Cassini.
The scientists discovered a new belt of proton radiation that has formed at a very short distance from the planet, limited by the atmosphere at its inner edge and the D-ring at its outer boundary, while it is almost completely isolated from the rest of Saturn’s magnetosphere.
The discovery was presented in the journal “Science” along with other articles on the first results of the final phase of the Cassini mission. Cassini, after travelling for 13 years in space, completed its mission on 15 September 2017 with a spectacular ‘suicide dive’ into Saturn’s dense atmosphere.
Saturn’s magnetic field is over 10 times stronger nearer to the planet than outside its rings. This makes the trapping of protons so effective that they remain trapped in the same area for many years, constantly interacting with the D-ring and Saturn’s atmosphere until they lose all their energy.
However, the rate of this energy loss was, until recently, unknown because the quantity of the material in the faint D-ring was also unknown.
“There were many surprises,”, says Roussos. “What all these observations show is that the region between the rings and the planet is a very strongly coupled system…Everything affects everything else.”
In addition to Roussos, participants in the study included the Office of Space Research and Technology of the Academy of Athens and the team led by Professor Stamatis Krimigis, another notable Greek space exploration scientist.
“A small quantity of dust in the D-ring would allow very intense particle radiation to develop that would create a problem for Cassini,” said Dr. Nick Sergis, a scientific associate of the Office of Space Research that also contributed to the scientific paper, talking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.
“The opposite, namely a dense D-ring that would absorb the protons quickly, would not allow the creation of such a belt,” Sergis said.
(With info from AMNA)