After spending more than a year orbiting Saturn in the planet’s equatorial plane, the Cassini spacecraft has embarked on the “IN-1” series of inclined orbits that will give us excellent views of Saturn’s rings. The observations I analyze are stellar occultations in which we measure the brightness of a star as the rings pass in front of it. Our first IN-1 ring stellar occs are coming up June 28-29. Our occultations in the Cassini Solstice Mission (that runs through the planet’s northern summer solstice) are all unique in some particular geometric or scientific aspect. In some, the path of the star relative to the ring particles will slow to a relative crawl, allowing us to sample the structure of the rings at the scale of individual ring particles (~ 1 meter). We will also be observing Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, jointly with the Cassini Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS). It is one of the few stars that both VIMS and the instrument I work with (UVIS) can see since we look at very different wavelengths. This will enable us to confirm small, unusual features that we discover as well as provide information on the population of the smallest particles in the rings. In the meantime, there are excellent images of the rings and the rest of the Saturn system available here, including my famous ultraviolet image of the rings in the Cassini Images Hall of Fame.

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JC

Planetary Scientist and Asst. Professor of Physics at University of Central Florida; Movie Buff; Trekkie; Jethro Tull fanatic; part-time actor, piano player, writer; and full-time husband and father.

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