Unexplained space phenomena captured in photo of Saturn's rings

One of the recent images returned from the Cassini spacecraft, a school-bus-sized probe orbiting Saturn since 2004, includes an odd detail that is puzzling astronomers:
It's not exactly clear what's going on here, even in this slightly zoomed shot. But it looks for all the world - or worlds -- like some small object on an inclined orbit has punched through Saturn's narrow F ring, bursting out from underneath, and dragging behind it a wake of particles from the rings. The upward-angled structure is definitely real, as witnessed by the shadow it's casting on the ring material to the lower left. And what's with the bright patch right where this object seems to have slammed in the rings? Did it shatter millions of icy particles, revealing their shinier interior material, making them brighter? Clearly, something awesome and amazing happened here.
Like the fist of an angry god (Phil Plait / "Bad Astronomy" - Discover, thanks Ugly Canuck)

Related: Saturn Images from Cassini (ciclops.org)



  1. Silly astronomers… it’s obvious that an alien spacecraft crashed into Saturn’s rings. Hope the aliens have OnStar.

  2. Lessee…Jupiter gets hit…Saturn’s ring take a bash…my guess is that these are the vanguards of the long-period 65-million year swarm of tumbling space bits that will turn us all into a fatty layer in the geological record.

    Happy Monday.

  3. I’m pretty sure that’s the USS Enterprise hiding behind Saturn’s rings. Didn’t you guys see the movie?

  4. It means we are going to be invaded by elephant like beasts in 16 years. (just read footfall by Niven and pournell)

  5. No one would have believed, in the first years of the 21st century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space.
    No one could have dreamed we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.

    At midnight on the 10th of August, a huge mass of luminous gas erupted from Saturn and sped towards Earth. Across 1 400 000 000 km of void, invisibly hurtling towards us, came the first of the missiles that were to bring so much calamity to Earth. As I watched, there was another jet of gas. It was another missile, starting on its way.

    And that’s how it was for the next ten nights. A flare, spurting out from Saturn – bright green, drawing a green mist behind it – a beautiful, but somehow disturbing sight. Ogilvy, the astronomer, assured me we were in no danger. He was convinced there could be no living thing on that remote, forbidding planet.

    “The chances of anything coming from Saturn are a million to one,” he said.
    “The chances of anything coming from Saturn are a million to one – but still they come!”

    Jupiter gets a black spot, Venus a white one, and now things are happening around Saturn. 2012 here we come.

  6. This is terrible news. Can the Millenium Falcon really have crashed into that asteroid? Or are they just hiding until the Imperial cruiser gives up the search?

    Tune in next week to find out!

  7. Whatever it is, it is beautiful in its mystery. And of course it’s awesome how much it looks like a spacecraft, it fires the imagination, though if I had to bet I’d call it a comet with an odd trajectory.

  8. So! that’s what happened to my pointy hat, he did it-he really,really did it! MERLIN,come here yer git!!

  9. Dang it, that was the asteroid we were to board once we left our human shells. No everyone’s gonna leave my cult.

  10. Looks more to me like it’s an icy body on the ring plane, as opposed to something moving through the ring plane. Notice that the debris trail is directly in line with the shadow. Saturn’s rings are almost directly edge on to the sun currently, so any large-ish body in the ring plane will cast a very long shadow. If the plume is due to outgassing of the body, solar radiation (even as feeble as it is that far out) will push it directly away from the sun like the tail of a comet. The brighter area “downwind” may simply be scattering of the plume as it interacts with the higher density of particles in that section of the rings.

  11. Akula971:got alink for the “white spot of Venus”?

    Thinking about two impacts observed in the thirty years since we got Voyager out to Jupiter: if that’s a normal rate – time and continued observation will tell – ie 2 hits per 33.3 years, say: six a century, sixty a millenium, 60,000 per million years, 600000 per 100 million years – then the extinction impacts on Earth would be – (those happened once every 250-300 million years, right?)- would be like, one for every 1,8 million Jupiter impacts…

    Maybe those ancients were on to something, worshipping Jupiter!

  12. Ah! Um… er… pay no attention to the light behind Saturns Rings!… It’s only… er…

    hey! Look over there on the pole! A hexagon!

  13. That’s Phil Plait, BTW. He’s also the president of the James “The Amazing” Randi Educational Foundation.

  14. That’s Phil Plait, BTW. He’s also the president of the James “The Amazing” Randi Educational Foundation.

    Well what the hell is he doing bursting through the outer rings of Saturn? Someone better get him down, quick!

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