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Saturn's rings tell a comet's tale

Ripples testify to 14th century collision

6:12pm, October 7, 2011

NANTES, France — During the 1300s, the Black Death was savaging Europe, England and France were locked in the Hundred Years’ War and Chaucer was penning his Canterbury Tales. Meanwhile, more than a billion kilometers away, a comet careened toward Saturn and disintegrated, dropping dusty clouds of debris on the giant planet’s iconic rings, creating rippled cometary footprints.

The ripples from that cataclysmic event can still be detected today, electrical engineer Essam Marouf reported October 4 during the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

Marouf, a professor at San Jose State University in California and a member of the Cassini science team, described how the probe beamed radio waves back to Earth through the innermost part of Saturn’s C ring, a tenuous inner band in the planet’s ring system. The radio waves revealed what M

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