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Galileo sends back details of Jupiter's rings

Jupiter's rings
Jupiter's ring system (top) and its transparent ring  

Complex, swirling and dusty ... but no ice

September 15, 1998
Web posted at: 7:34 p.m. EDT (2334 GMT)

(CNN) -- As it orbits the planet Jupiter, the spacecraft Galileo is sending back details not only about the planet and its moons, but also about its little-known rings.

While Saturn is best known for its rings, the images Galileo is sending back reveal a complex, swirling ring system around Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system.

Scientists from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, Arizona, said Tuesday that the rings were formed by huge amounts of dust kicked up as small meteors crash into Jupiter's four small inner moons.

The scientists said that the rings serve as dynamic laboratories to help them understand how the solar system was formed billions of years ago.

They also say that unlike the rings around Saturn, Jupiter's rings do not contain ice.

Galileo has also sent back pictures of Jupiter's four inner moons, which appear to be dark red and covered with craters from meteor impacts.

3rd ring proves to be 2 rings

The images Galileo has been sending back in its two-and-a-half years of orbiting Jupiter have improved on the information sent back by the Voyager expedition in the late 1970s.

Voyager revealed that Jupiter's rings include a flattened, main ring, and an inner, cloud-like ring called a halo.

But one Voyager image also included what appeared to be a faint, third ring farther away from Jupiter than the other two.

The pictures Galileo has sent back reveal that there is, indeed, a third ring, and not only is it transparent, but it is also two rings -- one embedded in the other.

The images are available on the Internet.

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