Chemical interactions between Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings

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The Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft made close-up measurements of Saturn’s ionosphere and upper atmosphere in the 1970s and 1980s that suggested a chemical interaction between the rings and atmosphere. Exploring this interaction provides information on ring composition and the influence on Saturn’s atmosphere from infalling material. The Cassini Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer sampled in situ the region between the D ring and Saturn during the spacecraft’s Grand Finale phase. We used these measurements to characterize the atmospheric structure and material influx from the rings. The atmospheric He/H2 ratio is 10 to 16%. Volatile compounds from the rings (methane; carbon monoxide and/or molecular nitrogen), as well as larger organic-bearing grains, are flowing inward at a rate of 4800 to 45,000 kilograms per second.

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