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International Edition Winners 2012: Pakistan, Grade 11-12, Target 2

International Edition Winners 2012: Pakistan, Grade 11-12, Target 2

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Saturn's F ring
Target 2, Saturn's F ring
M. Arsam Saleem
Tahura Shahid
Sidra Kausar
Sarah Pervez Alwani

Aga Khan Higher Secondary School
12th Grade

"After doing some preliminary investigation I am of the opinion that to gather more information, the best choice would be to photograph Saturn's Ring F.

The F ring, one of Saturn's many rings named A through G, is home to numerous phenomena whose cause we have yet to understand. It is mainly composed of ice crystals and is variably sparkly. It was first discovered in 1980 and is often thought of as Saturn's most unusual ring as it has been recorded changing color in the span of just a few hours. It is maintained by two shepherd moons, Prometheus and Pandora.

The F ring has been puzzling scientists since its discovery; when Voyager 1 visited the planet in 1980, the ring was faint, but it sparkled with bright spots. By the time the Cassini spacecraft arrived in 2004, the spots were gone but the ring as a whole had grown twice as bright and three times as wide.

Even now, while most of the inner rings have clear, well-defined edges, the F ring, which is the outermost of Saturn's main rings, has a thin central core surrounded by a diffuse skirt of smoke-sized ice particles. Those swirls of smoke form twists and knots, and some of it ends up around the ring's core in a spiral.

A big mystery surrounding Saturn's F ring is that why did it get dimmer between Voyager l's departure and Voyager 2's arrival a period of just 9 months? Another mystery is that when Voyager I and 2 saw the ring, it was peppered with bright spots that glowed for a short time before fading. The Hubble Space Telescope saw similar spots in 1995 but by 2004, they had mostly disappeared.

Where did these spots come from and why have we not seen them again?

Scientists believe that the cause of most of the F ring's inexplicable behavior is its shepherd moon, Prometheus, but there has been no concrete evidence to prove this fact.

The complexity of its isolated bright clumps, individual strands, braided regions and strange segments is reason enough why the Cassini probe should give more attention to it specifically, but there is also the fact that studying Saturn's F ring might help scientists further understand how planetary bodies interact with other objects in space, like stars and giant debris fields.

Besides this, such a study can also help us understand the activities that occur when solar systems evolve out of dusky disks, much like our own solar system with its sun and planets.

In short, any expedition to learn more about Saturn cannot possibly be complete without studying its most dynamic and perplexing entity, the F ring. That is why I believe that the Cassini spacecraft and scientists should focus particularly on Saturn's F ring; it may bring us one step closer to understanding a few mysteries of the universe and that is something I sincerely wish for.