NASA's Cassini finds the space between Saturn and its rings is unusually empty

NASA researchers have dubbed the space between Saturn and its rings 'the big empty' due to the surprising lack of dust in the expanse. This discovery was made by the space agency's Cassini spacecraft, which made its first pass through the empty space on April 26. Researchers had expected this region to contain a certain level of dust, but instead received data back that indicated quite the opposite — there's not much dust at all, relatively speaking.

This was the first of what will ultimately end up being 22 'dives' through this empty space, says NASA. The team was anticipating a dust level that would require special accommodations for Cassini that would have altered the way the spacecraft was able to make its observations. This makes the discovery — that there's not much dust at all — a very welcomed one, then. The craft's antenna will only need to be used as a shield of sorts during four of the dives instead of all of them.

The four instances are due to the spacecraft's planned close proximity to the edges of the ring where the space will have more debris. Overall, 'the big empty' represents a span of about 1,200 miles, making Cassini's mere 13ft antenna a spec. The huge expanse means there's a very low chance that Cassini will encounter larger space debris. When needed, the large antenna can act a shield to protect the spacecraft's delicate equipment.

To help gauge how much dust was in the region are actual audio files from the spacecraft, which were generated from the gathered RPWS data. The audio plays cracking and popping noises, which represent the sound of space dust colliding with the antennas. The RWPS's team leader William Kurth talked about this, saying, "It was a bit disorienting — we weren't hearing what we expected to hear." Only a handful of dust impacts were heard.

Though it's not much to listen to, NASA provides videos with the audio data and the audio itself here. Note that the links to the videos are direct downloads for MOV videos, so steer clear if you're on a limited data connection. All of this, of course, is just a sliver of everything the space agency is up to. Hit up the timeline below for more NASA news!