Voyager at Saturn: curiouser
Pasadena, Calif. — "Curiouser and curiouser," said Alice as she roamed through Wonderland. He comments apply equally well to the behavior of the rings, Monitor correspondent David Salisbury reports.
The most serious malfunction was the jamming of the platform on which the spacecraft's cameras were mounted. Tests early Thursday managed to rotate the cameras by a few degrees, but quite erratically. "We still can't say for sure, but there now is evidence that the problem is in the elctronics," said Esker K. Davis, the project manager.
As Voyager whipped around Saturn at 50,000 miles an hour a number of weird things happened. First, an analysis of a number of pictures taken before the spacecraft reached the rings showed they were not precisely pointed, even though spacecraft sensors showed no problem.
Next, when the spacecraft reached the ring plane, the instrument that measures electrically charged particles "went crazy," acting as if the spacecraft was being pummeled with dust, yet sensitive gyros showed no evidence of any impact. Suddenly small jets that control the spacecraft attitude fired as if something was pushing against the craft.
Other unexpected "anomalies" developed as well.The radio receiver cooled down just enough to interfere with communications. And when, the spacecraft emerged from behind Saturn, several instruments acted "strangely," intermittently transmitting good and scrambled data.