Saturn without rings!

Last Updated: Sunday, September 6, 2009 - 14:08

New Delhi: Saturn, the lord of the rings, is
without its rings!

Shocked! Don`t be, as the rings have not gone anywhere.
They have just become invisible to us due to a rare celestial
phenomenon.

Explaining the phenomenon, which occurs after every 14.7
years, RC Kapoor, a scientist at the Indian Institute of
Astrophysics, said, "Saturn is going through a phase called
`Ring Crossing`. In this condition, its rings become aligned
along our line of sight and are therefore very difficult to
see."

The Saturn`s rings keep tilting in different directions
as viewed from the Earth, due to changing geometry, as it
moves around the Sun. At times, when the geometry is very
favourable, the rings appear face on, spread out and clearly
visible. This had happened in 2000, he said.

"In the present situation, the rings of the planet are
tilted edge-on to Earth, making them impossible to see," CB
Devgun, President of Science Popularisation Association of
Communicators and Educators (SPACE), said.

Devgun said, since the ring system is extremely thin, the
entire system becomes invisible during this phase (ring
crossing) of around 15 days.

The complete edge-on phenomenon was visible on September
4, he informs.

Since then, the view of Saturn`s rings has been slowly
tilting towards us in such a way that they are now visible
almost edge-on, he added.

Something like this was first noticed around 400 years
ago when Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei first turned his
telescope towards Saturn, Devgun said.

One can see the no-ring Saturn with the help of a
telescope of about five cm aperture or more and a
magnification upward of 100 for a good view.

Of the four planets with rings -- Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus
and Neptune -- in the solar system, Saturn has the most
prominent ring system.

The planet takes about twenty nine-and-a-half years to
revolve around the Sun. While it does so, its axis of rotation
and the plane of the rings are tilted 26.7 degrees to the
plane of its orbit.

The angle and direction of tilt are fixed in space. Thus,
as Saturn moves in its orbit, one can alternately see the
north and south sides of the rings for almost 15 years each.

In between, the rings appear edge-on to the line of sight
and seem to disappear.

For the past 15 years, south side of the rings were
visible. On September 4, the rings were positioned edge-on
which made the planet appear without any ring.

On September 17, when it will be on the other side of the
Sun from the Earth, the north side of the ring system of the
planet would come into visibility and will be visible until
2025.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, September 6, 2009 - 14:08
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