Years of research into Saturn's rings, plus new information from the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around the ringed gas giant, have resulted in a comprehensive new study of the planet. These images are among the most stunning from that study.


Science magazine published two studies on Saturn today, which bring together past research with contemporary discoveries. One focuses on the rings, the other on Saturn's atmosphere. According to a release from AAAS:

Jeffrey Cuzzi and colleagues put a spotlight on the ring system surrounding Saturn, made mostly of water ice, and detail its many layers. Based on Cassini's near-infrared observations, the researchers suggest that the mysterious reddish coloration, which contaminates portions of the ring system, could be caused by small clusters of carbon rings or by negatively charged iron compounds. They also detail the dynamic, constantly changing nature of the rings' features, and note that the vigorous evolutionary processes altering their structure occur on extremely short timescales of years, months, or even days. Cuzzi and the researchers say that many of the processes affecting Saturn's rings can also be observed in protoplanetary disks-the precursors to new planets.

In addition:


Tamas Gombosi and Andrew Ingersoll reveal new and unique details about the planet's atmosphere, ionosphere, and magnetosphere. Using the tools on-board Cassini, these researchers analyzed the wind speeds and jet streams influencing Saturn's atmosphere and listened in on lightning storms rocking the face of the planet. They describe Saturn's magnetosphere, which forms around planets when solar winds interact with a planet's magnetic field, as a distinctive hybrid between Jupiter's and Earth's, unlike any other planets' in the solar system.

These images are true color, except the black-and-white one and the one with the bluish ring, which is enhanced. You can see the reddish tinge in some of the rings.

via Science Express