The Iapetus is half white half black because it sometimes crosses the dark Phoebe ring of Saturn.
According to a recent press release issued by the Administration, NASA gets first pictures of Saturn’s Phoebe outer ring. Judging from these images, this outer ring is a lot bigger than analysts initially believed.
The celestial body was famous for its numerous rings, but the Phoebe ring has remained unknown for all this time. Luckily, the space administration had been very successful in capturing the first pictures of the shadowed ring.
NASA experts have explained that until recently it was almost impossible for them to study the Phoebe ring because it is mainly made out of very small particles. For that matter, they pass as invisible in front of almost all NASA’s telescopes.
The infrared space craft that the administration has recently used to closely study Saturn’s structure has turned out to be much more effective than other previously used means of investigation. Thus, the first images of Saturn’s outer ring emerged, giving scientists the possibility to better understand this celestial phenomenon.
The first official accounts of the dark ring were published in 1671 when Giovanni Domenico Cassini, a famous Italian astronomer first stated that Saturn might feature a smaller unseen moon. He named his new discovery with the help of the scientific term, Iapetus.
The dark moon has triggered most experts’ curiosity all throughout these years. More specifically, astronomers could not understand why Saturn’s moon is sometimes white, sometimes black. The only explanation that they could find was that maybe the moon was surrounded by a black ring that goes unnoticed for all NASA’s technology.
Armed with advanced technology and infrared telescopes, experts at the Administration were finally able to spot the dark ring of Saturn, also known as the Phoebe ring. This finding has helped them prove that the Iapetus is indeed crossing a ring made out of dark matter. The white shade of the moon is therefore shadowed by Saturn’s Phoebe ring when the two meet.
The ring was first discovered in 2009, but very few things were known back then. Scientists initially believed that Saturn’s outer ring is 4.8 million to 7.76 million miles large, but new discoveries point to the fact that it could be a lot larger.
The recent pictures captured with the help of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope show that the ring is in fact 3.75 million to 10.1 million mile wide. However, the particles that form the ring are a lot smaller than the ones of other Saturn ring.
The new information related to Saturn’s Phoebe ring will be published in the journal Nature.
Image Source: photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov