Cassini Passes Through Saturn’s Rings, Discovers The ‘Big Empty’ And Some Eerie Sounds [Updated]

The so-called “grand finale” of NASA’s Cassini mission was to include a few passes through the then-unexplored region between Saturn’s rings. And while the venerable space probe technically didn’t find much in this area, there were enough interesting findings to send back to Earth as Cassini hopes to go out with more of a bang than a whimper.

According to a NASA press release describing the latest discoveries from the Cassini spacecraft, the recent discoveries had “delighted” the probe’s engineers, while befuddling “ring scientists” due to the fact that the area was found to be almost free of space dust. This was based on observations the spacecraft had gathered on April 26, when it made its first scheduled dive through Saturn’s rings.

“The region between the rings and Saturn is ‘the big empty,’ apparently,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, in a statement.

“Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected.”

[Image by NASA]

As of Tuesday, May 2, Cassini had 21 more dives scheduled, with four of them taking place by the innermost regions of the rings, and requiring that the craft’s antenna serve as a shield. NASA noted that this would have been necessary had the gap between Saturn’s rings contained more space dust, and also have required the craft’s instruments to operate differently in order to send back accurate observations.

Also worth noting were the sound files recorded as the Cassini spacecraft passed through the rings. According to Science Alert, these sounds are just as close as you could get to the sound of “near-total emptiness,” though they aren’t quite as eerie as the sounds that were recorded around Jupiter in separate NASA missions. These sounds were gathered by Cassini’s Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument, which suddenly went quiet as the spacecraft reached the gap.