Cassini-VIMS observations of Saturn's main rings: I. Spectral properties and temperature radial profiles variability with phase angle and elevation

G. Filacchione, M. Ciarniello, F. Capaccioni, R. N. Clark, P. D. Nicholson, M. M. Hedman, J. N. Cuzzi, D. P. Cruikshank, C. M. Dalle Ore, R. H. Brown, P. Cerroni, N. Altobelli, L. J. Spilker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The spectral properties and thermal behavior of Saturn's rings are determined from a dataset of ten radial mosaics acquired by Cassini-VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) between October 29th 2004 and January 27th 2010 with phase angle ranging between 5.7° and 132.4° and elevation angles between -23.5° and 2.6°. These observations, after reduction to spectrograms, e.g. 2D arrays containing the VIS-IR (0.35-5.1μm) spectral information versus radial distance from Saturn (from 73.500 to 141.375km, 400km/bin), allow us to compare the derived spectral and thermal properties of the ring particles on a common reference. Spectral properties: rings spectra are characterized by an intense reddening at visible wavelengths while they maintain a strong similarity with water ice in the infrared domain. Significant changes in VIS reddening, water ice abundance and grain sizes are observed across different radial regions resulting in correlation with optical depth and local structures. The availability of observations taken at very different phase angles allows us to examine spectrophotometric properties of the ring's particles. When observed at high phase angles, a remarkable increase of visible reddening and water ice band depths is found, probably as a consequence of the presence of a red-colored contaminant intimately mixed within water ice grains and of multiple scattering. At low phases the analysis of the 3.2-3.6μm range shows faint spectral signatures at 3.42-3.52μm which are compatible with the CH2 aliphatic stretch. The 3.29μm PAH aromatic stretch absorption is not clearly detectable on this dataset. VIMS results indicate that ring particles contain about 90-95% water ice while the remaining 5-10% is consistent with different contaminants like amorphous carbon or tholins. However, we cannot exclude the presence of nanophase iron or hematite produced by iron oxidation in the rings tenuous oxygen atmosphere, intimately mixed with the ice grains. Greater pollution caused by meteoritic material is seen in the C ring and Cassini division while the low levels of aliphatic material observed by VIMS in the A and B rings particles are an evidence that they are pristine. Thermal properties: the ring-particles' temperature is retrieved by fitting the spectral position of the 3.6μm continuum peak observed on reflectance spectra: in case of pure water ice the position of the peak, as measured in laboratory, shifts towards shorter wavelengths when temperature decreases, moving from about 3.65μm at 123K to about 3.55μm at 88K. When applied to VIMS rings observations, this method allows us to infer the average temperature across ring regions sampled through 400km-wide radial bins. Comparing VIMS temperature radial profiles with similar CIRS measurements acquired at the same time we have found a substantial agreement between the two instruments' results across the A and B rings. In general VIMS measures higher temperatures than CIRS across C ring and Cassini division as a consequence of the lower optical depth and the resulting pollution that creates a deviation from pure water ice composition of these regions. VIMS results point out that across C ring and CD the 3.6μm peak wavelength is always higher than across B and A rings and therefore C ring and CD are warmer than A and B rings. VIMS observations allow us to investigate also diurnal and seasonal effects: comparing antisolar and subsolar ansae observations we have measured higher temperature on the latter. As the solar elevation angle decreases to 0° (equinox), the peak's position shifts at shorter wavelengths because ring's particles becomes colder. Merging multi-wavelength data sets allow us to test different thermal models, combining the effects of particle albedo, regolith composition, grain size and thermal properties with the ring structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-65
Number of pages21
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Ices
  • Saturn, rings
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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