Professor Lewis Dartnell, Professor of Science Communication, wrote an article for BBC Sky at Night Magazine about measuring Saturn’s rings.
In the article, Professor Dartnell wrote about how the light diffracting through the particles of the planet’s rings helps astronomers to measure their size.
Discussing diffraction, he wrote: “Diffraction is more often than not the bane of any observational astronomer’s life. This wave property of light means that light entering the aperture of a telescope spreads out slightly – just like water waves passing through the opening in a harbour wall. For an astronomer, diffractions acts to limit the maximum resolution that can be achieved with a telescope, and a point source like a star appears surrounded by a series of rings.”
He added: “Exactly the same phenomenon also occurs when light waves pass and interact with a small particle. And it turns out that this effect can be exploited to do some very nifty astronomical science. Stephanie Eckert, at the Department of Physics, University of Central Florida, and her colleagues have been doing just that to explore the ring system of Saturn.”