Monday, August 10, 2009

Ring Strike

First, an amateur astronomer discovered a mysterious flux of energy on the surface of Venus. Then another amateur astronomer spotted the aftermath of a small asteroid or comet striking Jupiter's atmosphere. Now the Cassini orbiter has returned a spectacular image of the effect of an unknown body plunging through the underside of Saturn's F ring. The bright peak is ring material dragged beyond the ring-plane by the impact; the dark line stretching away at an oblique angle is the shadow of the peak cast across the F ring, stretched a long way out because Saturn is almost at equinox, with the ring system at right angles to the sun.

At one point in The Quiet War, a combat spacecraft plunges through Saturn's rings. I never thought that I'd be able to see what it would look like in real life . . .


Anonymous Al R said...

I think someone's been having a space war in our solar system without telling us.

August 10, 2009 5:35 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Seems to be moving outwards, at present...

August 10, 2009 5:50 pm  
Blogger saint said...

You know what else? The guy who discovered planets was an amateur astronomer. The guy who discovered that other planets have moons was an amateur astronomer.

It must be weird to be a scifi writer and have the occasional plot device come true, or in this case as near to true as our instruments can tell. (If we don't know what it is, it's a U.F.O. at this point, right?)

August 10, 2009 7:02 pm  
Blogger Adam Roberts Project said...

I think the rings are alive (or, indeed 'ALIVE!!!'), have just woken up, and are beginning to stretch their tentacles. Beware! Beware!

August 11, 2009 11:05 am  
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August 11, 2009 11:12 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Saint - 'amateur' much maligned these days, but amateur astronomers are true saints. Cassini scientists as yet don't know what caused this, no. Might as well be a UFO or a world-girdling serpent (hi Adam!) stirring. Exciting times.

Jeff - I'm afraid that I link at erratic whim rather than by request, but am flattered that you see my whimsy in any way useful. Best of luck with your more purposeful endeavour.

August 11, 2009 2:55 pm  
Blogger George Berger said...

Paul, I just saved that wonderful photo in my Documrnts. I'll copy it asap onto my USB stick for posterity. It is, to me, far more magnificent than those great photos that NASA published and which were picked up by the near-death Boston Globe. For this shot shows something that's currently unexplainable and totally unexpected.

August 15, 2009 8:12 am  

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