While our planet is experiences equinox twice a year, the fall autumnal equinox being today, Saturn experiences equinox twice every 29.7 Earth years. That is the time it takes the Saturn to do one orbit around the sun.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was there to view this incredible show that has provided scientists an unprecedented view of this event last month.
An equinox occurs when the tilt of the planet’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the Sun being vertically above a point on the Equator and on August 11, sunlight hit Saturn’s rings edge-on, performing a celestial magic trick that made them all but disappear.
Since then scientists have been reviewing the data sent back from Cassini and have been in awe of the details revealed in the rings of Saturn. Scientists once thought the rings were almost completely flat, but new images reveal the heights of some newly discovered bumps in the rings are as high as the Rocky Mountains.
“The biggest surprise was to see so many places of vertical relief above and below the otherwise paper-thin rings,” said Linda Spilker, deputy project scientist at JPL. “To understand what we are seeing will take more time, but the images and data will help develop a more complete understanding of how old the rings might be and how they are evolving.”
1. NASA Cassini Reveals New Ring Quirks, Shadows During Saturn Equinox, SpaceRef
2. JPL Cassini Image Archives, NASA