space-photos-of-the-week:-saturn’s-rings-are-feelin’-groovy

Just because we are not able to look directly at the sun doesn’t mean that NASA can’t. The Solar Dynamics Observatory stares constantly to better understand how our star works. This week we will safely approach some spicy solar flares that point to the evolution of our habitable planet and the desolation of others.

The sun sure has flare, but Saturn and its rings have elegance and class. The Cassini spacecraft may have signed off and dove into Saturn’s atmosphere in 2017, but scientists are still poring over its treasure trove of data. The rings around this planet are much like the rings in a very old tree: They tell stories about how long they’ve been there, how the environment changed, and even can hint at how the entire solar system came together.

See, to grow a new solar system, you first need a star bearing a massive amount of dust and gas called an interstellar disk. This spinning wheel of debris eventually coalesces into planets, and bada bing, you have a solar system. (Yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but let us bada bing across a few billion years in the interests of time.) Some of the same dynamics that create planets also create moons, but once these bodies begin to form, they’ll have an effect on the rings themselves. This is where Saturn comes into play.

Hidden within some of Saturn’s rings are very tiny objects. However small, they’re substantial enough to perturb the rings nearby. What’s more, new data out this week shed light on the chemical composition of the rings of Saturn, giving scientists more insight on these particles and their potential role in how rings are shaped and formed.

Finally, we’re off to a faraway spiral galaxy studded with supernovae, as well as a cluster called Coma that has come down with a bad case of thick and sticky gas.

Take a deep breath, psych yourself up, and boldly go into WIRED’s full set of space photos here.


More Great WIRED Stories

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