Astronomy

Size of Saturn's ring material

Size of Saturn's ring material

How big are the chunks of rock ice that make up Saturn's rings? Are there many objects larger than pebble size?


The vast majority of the particles in Saturn's rings are small, on the order of $sim10^{-1}$ m or lower. The columnar number density, according to data from Voyager 1 and Earth-based observations, can be approximated as a function of particle radius by a power law for all particle radii $a$ in meters such that $0


Though it is only acknowledged in the original paper, the vertical axes for the three different ring regions have been shifted upward different amounts to fit all three on the same graph.

After $a=1$, there's a deviation from the law, and then a steep dropoff at about $a=3$. Obviously, particles larger than this exist, and they certainly play an important role in ring structure, but they're relatively rare.

Obviously, the trends show that smaller particles are much more common, and thus while there are indeed particles larger than pebbles - some as big as boulders, perhaps, or bigger - they are certainly few in number. Most particles are extremely small, smaller than pebbles.

This data covers observations from ring semi-major axes of $sim$ 75,000 km to $sim$ 135,000 km - a fairly big spread, covering most of the rings and ending near the Roche Division. The paper doesn't have one single graph of particle number density of a given size at a given semi-major axis, but it does have several subdivided plots (Fig. 15.1 and 15.2) of optical depth as a function of distance from the center of Saturn, which should give you some helpful data on total number density, if you want to make some basic assumptions about mean particle radius. This data is a bit newer, from Cassini, but the Voyager 1 data is just as helpful.


Saturn's rings are composed of chunks as large as 1km in size, although the typical particle is tiny. They are spread through an area on average 10 meters thick. Also, Saturn's rings are nearly pure ice, not rocks. I don't know if we have a count of "how many" objects are larger than pebble size, given the gigantic number of particles that make up the rings I think we only have counts of the smaller moons within the rings.


Size of Saturn's ring material - Astronomy

These sheepherder moons maintain a sharply defined edge to the ring. Radial features in the B ring, called spokes, were suggested by Steve O’Meara (Earth observations) and confirmed by spacecraft. These spokes , seasonal in nature, appear to be caused by electrostatic forces. A quite-distant ring of dust was discovered in 2009, called the Phoebe ring, and the Saturnian moon Phoebe that is not visible in Earth-based telescopes.

Saturn’s rings via NASA Hubble Space TelescopePublic Domain | Image courtesy of NASA.

Saturn’s rings, with Saturn blocking the Sun via NASA Cassini SpacecraftPublic Domain | Image courtesy of NASA.

Saturn’s F ring, with the moon Prometheus pulling material from the ring via NASA Cassini SpacecraftPublic Domain | Image courtesy of NASA.

Spokes in Saturn’s B ring via NASA Cassini SpacecraftPublic Domain | Image courtesy of NASA.


How big is the average rock in Saturns rings? And how far apart are they from each other?

Couldn't find the answer in google so might as well try here.

Most of the rings is just dust. But there are bigger rocks as well. Some can be as big as a house and very few even larger ones. Even a moon can be found inside the rings, causing waves in his surroundings. picture.
Another interesting fact is the thickness of the rings. The rings are only a few meters to a few hundreds of meters thick. That makes them almost invisible when viewed from the side.

That moon image really brings it into perspective just how enormous Saturn is.

French & Nicholson (2000) found that there's very little dust in Saturn's Rings, particles average 2 to 12 metres, and most are 1 cm to 20 metres in size. Their measurements agree with Voyager missions.

French, R.G. and Nicholson, P.D., 2000. Saturn's rings II: Particle sizes inferred from stellar occultation data. Icarus, 145(2), pp.502-523

Also does the increasing distance between the lines indicate Saturns size or something?

Is that Saturn in the background of the image or just nothingness. Apologies if that sounds stoopid.

What about the accuracy when oryx fired his super weapon in destiny the taken king. Would there just be a giant hole in the ring? Or would it go back to normal?

Am I correct in assuming that based on that picture, and as dust further away from saturn moves slower, that the direction of orbit is towards the left side (of the picture)?

So the slower dust gets disturbed and left behind (to the right) and the faster dust above gets disturbed as it speeds ahead.

The average particle size (radius) for Saturn's Rings is between 2 to 12 meters, with a likely minimum particle size of 1 to 10 cm and a maximum particle size of 10 to 20 metres. Saturn's Rings contain relatively little dust. They are mostly car to truck sized.

Although detailed models of the size distribution in Saturn’s rings below a radius of 1 cm are lacking, several lines of evidence suggest that—at least in the main A, B, and C rings—very little of the total surface area is accounted for by such particles.

Here's an excerpt from the conclusions of the paper.

With the exception of the Cassini Division, where our results are the least well-constrained, the effective radii agree to within ∼30%. Both studies find that aeff ' 2 m in the C Ring, ∼8 m in the inner B Ring, and 8–12 m in the inner A Ring.

I not sure about distance. Though this could be inferred via predictions of density and frequency of collisions.


Size of Saturn's ring material - Astronomy

The planet Saturn is sixth from the Sun and is the second largest planet in our solar system. It is also classified as a gas planet, as it is made up of mainly hydrogen.

The planet's most interesting feature is its massive "ring" system. Surrounding the planet are a formation of "rings" containing billions of ice and rock particles, and there are thousands of these rings!

Planet Saturn can be seen without modern technology in ideal conditions, but the rings will only be visible when viewed with a telescope. Often the planet will appear "egg-shaped" depending on when you're looking at it!

It has at least 61 moons, many of which orbit the planet within its rings. Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, is the second largest moon in the entire solar system, next to Jupiter's Ganymede. It is also the only moon in the solar system that has an atmosphere.

Here are some additional facts about Saturn:

*Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is bigger than the planet Mercury!

*The particles making up Saturn's ring system vary in size, from grains of sand to the size of buildings!

*Particles that make up Saturn's rings may be left over pieces of moons that were smashed by asteroid impacts.

*In about 50 million years it is expected that all of Saturn's rings will be gone. The planet's gravitational pull will likely collect all of the surrounding particles and the rings will slowly disappear.


Age From a Scale

We know the age of the Earth because we can use the decay of radioactive matter in rocks to work out how old they are. Planetary geologists have done the same for rocks from the moon and Mars.

Saturn’s rings, predominantly composed of ice fragments with trace amounts of rocky matter, don’t lend themselves to this kind of analysis, said Matthew Hedman, a planetary scientist at the University of Idaho. That means age estimates have to be based on circumstantial evidence.

That evidence, in part, comes from dust. Think of the icy rings as resembling a field of snow: After a pristine start, soot from afar gradually pollutes it. In order to estimate the age of the snow, scientists have to measure the rate at which soot is falling, as well as the total amount of soot already there.

Cassini did the first part with its Cosmic Dust Analyzer, which found that Saturn’s rings are being steadily polluted by darker material — a mixture of rocky dust and organic compounds. Most of this material is being delivered by micrometeoroids from the Kuiper belt, a distant source of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. The spacecraft also found that the sooty material currently makes up about 1% of Saturn’s icy rings.

To uncover the total mass of cosmic soot in the rings, researchers then had to weigh the rings themselves. Thankfully, Cassini’s Grand Finale created just such an opportunity. As the spacecraft swooped through the rings, it precisely measured the net gravitational pull at every point. Since gravity fields are dependent on an object’s mass, this feat allowed scientists to directly weigh the entire ring system.

During Cassini’s Grand Finale, the spacecraft dove between the rings and the planet 22 times. The maneuver began and ended with close flybys of Saturn’s moon Titan, whose orbit is shown in yellow.

With this information — the amount of soot and the rate at which it is falling — scientists estimated that it would have taken between 10 million and 100 million years for that proverbial snowy field to find itself sullied. The findings were generally well received. “Most of the community today is convinced that the rings were formed recently,” said Luciano Iess, an expert in aerospace engineering at Sapienza University of Rome and the Science study’s lead author.

Yet the pollution argument isn’t watertight. Dones points out that the Cassini team analyzing the incoming pollution has not settled on a precise rate. Various values have appeared in several conference presentations, but a final figure hasn’t yet been published. In the Science paper, the researchers chose one of these values and came up with a youthful ring age. But this ambiguity has been “causing a lot of consternation,” said Paul Estrada, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center who is a member of the Cassini team analyzing pollution.

The pollution rate may have also changed relatively recently. “It could just be that the bombardment rate is unusually high at the moment,” said Crida, even if we can’t say what would cause such a spike. In theory, a future mission to Saturn could dig out a rocky core from an old moon, one that preserves the pollution flux over time, said Tracy Becker, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. But such a mission would be decades in the future.

We also don’t fully understand the physics behind the ring darkening. The micrometeoroids from the Kuiper belt slam into the rings’ icy chunks at such high speeds that the impacts are like little explosions, suggesting that not much of the micrometeoroids adheres. This has led to a fudge factor in the literature — guesstimates that 10% of the micrometeoroidal matter sticks to the ice and pollutes it.

Dones said that the Dust Accelerator Laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder may be able to replicate this impact process and give us a better idea of the staying power of the pollutants. But for now, we’re in the dark.

Enceladus is an icy world that hides a subsurface ocean of salty water. Geysers on its surface, seen at the bottom of the moon in the image on the right, shoot material out hundreds of miles into space, potentially feeding Saturn’s rings.

Crida’s commentary also suggested that an incognito planetary scrubber may be removing pollution to make the rings appear deceptively youthful. We’ve known since the Voyager days that material from the rings rains down onto the surface of Saturn. But we haven’t known what that material is made of. Cassini measured the rain using two separate instruments. Both found that it contains surprisingly little ice — as little as 24%. “That’s very confusing, given that the rings are measured to be over 95% water,” said James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. The “rain” is preferentially removing dirt, but no one knows why.

“There is something that is cleaning the rings,” said Crida. “We don’t know what it is, but it is now an observed fact, it’s not just a conjecture.”

Crida said that perhaps the ice ejected by micrometeoroid impacts tends to reattach itself to the rings, while the ejected pollutants rain out. Becker conjectures that pollution is being preferentially ejected by impacts, regardless of whether the ice is reattaching itself in this manner. And Hyodo wonders whether the geysers on Enceladus’ south pole are adding more water, diluting the rings’ pollution. But no one knows for sure.

But not everyone believes that there’s a lot of cleaning going on. “Getting the stuff dirty is easy,” said Militzer. “Cleaning is hard.”


Saturn's Rings May Be Remains of Ripped-Apart Moon

Saturn's famous rings are the last remaining shards of a huge moon the planet tore apart long ago, a new study suggests.

A moon about the size of Titan — Saturn's largest satellite — likely spiraled into the giant planet about 4.5 billion years ago, scientists think. As it made its way, Saturn's powerful gravity stripped off the doomed moon's icy outer layers, thus spawning the planet's magnificent rings, according to the research. [Gallery: The Rings and Moons of Saturn]

And, in death, this lost moon may have given other satellites life, the study suggests. Over the eons, much of the ring material has glommed together, forming the icy inner moons of Saturn.

"This model implies that the rings are primordial, that they formed from the same processes that left Titan as Saturn's only large satellite," said study author Robin Canup of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. "And it's the only self-consistent explanation for the ice-rich inner satellites."

Saturn's mysteriously icy rings

Much of the material in the outer solar system is composed of roughly equal parts rock and ice. But Saturn's rings are different — they're 90 to 95 percent water ice. Since meteoroids have polluted them with dust and debris over the ages, the rings were practically pure water ice when they formed, Canup said.

That makes their origin tough to explain. Some leading theories posit that the rings formed when a comet smashed into one of Saturn's moons, or when the planet's gravity pulled apart a comet that strayed too close.

But such events would probably create rings with lots of rock as well as ice, according to Canup.

"Other theories have struggled to explain an initial ring that was essentially pure ice," Canup told SPACE.com. "That's a very unusual composition."

But the long-ago destruction of a Titan-size moon explains things pretty well, she added.

While Saturn has only one truly gigantic moon today — Titan — it probably once had more, Canup said. Jupiter, after all, has four. Researchers think several Titan-size satellites formed around Saturn during the early days of the solar system but soon spiraled into the planet and died.

In the new study, Canup uses numerical modeling to show that the last of these doomed giant moons likely gave rise to Saturn's rings.

As the Titan-size moon approached Saturn, the planet's gravity tugged on it intensely, stripping off the moon's icy outer layers. These pieces formed Saturn's rings. The moon's rocky core, on the other hand, remained intact, eventually smashing into the planet.

"This process seems to naturally select for a pure-ice ring," Canup said.

This violent process likely occurred multiple times, with several different Titan-like moons spiraling inward to their deaths. But each subsequent event would have disrupted and destroyed any previous ring system, Canup said, so what we see today are likely the shards of the last big moon Saturn gobbled up.

A Titan-size satellite would fling off enough icy bits to make a ring system initially 10 to 100 times more massive than the one we see today. But these rings would shrink over time, according to the theory. Ice particles would collide and move about, with some spreading inward to get gobbled up by Saturn.

Other ice pieces would spread outward, where they'd start to stick together. Eventually, enough would coalesce to form icy moons such as Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas — whose masses are consistent with what the model predicts.

In addition to explaining the odd iciness of Saturn's rings and inner satellites, Canup said, the model also has the advantage of describing events that are a natural part of a giant planet's formation and youth.

"The other theories have the rings forming from a sort of random event," Canup said. "This model reduces the number of things that have to happen, which I think makes it more probable."

Canup reports her findings online Dec. 12 in the journal Nature.

Testing the theory out

In a few years' time, scientists should get a chance to test Canup's ring model with some hard data. At the end of its mission — now scheduled for 2017 — NASA's Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around the ringed planet, is slated to fly directly over Saturn's rings.

Cassini will make detailed observations that should allow scientists to get a better idea of the rings' mass and age, as well as the rate at which meteoroids are polluting them with debris, Canup said.

Such information should help researchers determine if the rings are indeed primordial, dating back 4.5 billion years as Canup's model suggests.

If the model is on the money, stargazers could gain an appreciation for the sacrifice a giant moon made so long ago.

"I think it's pretty neat to realize that the ring system, which is so famous, is probably the last surviving remnant of a lost satellite," Canup said.


Saturn is losing its rings at 'worst-case-scenario' rate

New NASA research confirms that Saturn is losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 & 2 observations made decades ago. The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn's magnetic field.

"We estimate that this 'ring rain' drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn's rings in half an hour," said James O'Donoghue of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn's equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live. This is relatively short, compared to Saturn's age of over 4 billion years." O'Donoghue is lead author of a study on Saturn's ring rain appearing in Icarus December 17.

Scientists have long wondered if Saturn was formed with the rings or if the planet acquired them later in life. The new research favors the latter scenario, indicating that they are unlikely to be older than 100 million years, as it would take that long for the C-ring to become what it is today assuming it was once as dense as the B-ring. "We are lucky to be around to see Saturn's ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime. However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today!" O'Donoghue added.

Various theories have been proposed for the ring's origin. If the planet got them later in life, the rings could have formed when small, icy moons in orbit around Saturn collided, perhaps because their orbits were perturbed by a gravitational tug from a passing asteroid or comet.

The first hints that ring rain existed came from Voyager observations of seemingly unrelated phenomena: peculiar variations in Saturn's electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere), density variations in Saturn's rings, and a trio of narrow dark bands encircling the planet at northern mid-latitudes. These dark bands appeared in images of Saturn's hazy upper atmosphere (stratosphere) made by NASA's Voyager 2 mission in 1981.

In 1986, Jack Connerney of NASA Goddard published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that linked those narrow dark bands to the shape of Saturn's enormous magnetic field, proposing that electrically charged ice particles from Saturn's rings were flowing down invisible magnetic field lines, dumping water in Saturn's upper atmosphere where these lines emerged from the planet. The influx of water from the rings, appearing at specific latitudes, washed away the stratospheric haze, making it appear dark in reflected light, producing the narrow dark bands captured in the Voyager images.

Saturn's rings are mostly chunks of water ice ranging in size from microscopic dust grains to boulders several yards (meters) across. Ring particles are caught in a balancing act between the pull of Saturn's gravity, which wants to draw them back into the planet, and their orbital velocity, which wants to fling them outward into space. Tiny particles can get electrically charged by ultraviolet light from the Sun or by plasma clouds emanating from micrometeoroid bombardment of the rings. When this happens, the particles can feel the pull of Saturn's magnetic field, which curves inward toward the planet at Saturn's rings. In some parts of the rings, once charged, the balance of forces on these tiny particles changes dramatically, and Saturn's gravity pulls them in along the magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere.

Once there, the icy ring particles vaporize and the water can react chemically with Saturn's ionosphere. One outcome from these reactions is an increase in the lifespan of electrically charged particles called H3+ ions, which are made up of three protons and two electrons. When energized by sunlight, the H3+ ions glow in infrared light, which was observed by O'Donoghue's team using special instruments attached to the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Their observations revealed glowing bands in Saturn's northern and southern hemispheres where the magnetic field lines that intersect the ring plane enter the planet. They analyzed the light to determine the amount of rain from the ring and its effects on Saturn's ionosphere. They found that the amount of rain matches remarkably well with the astonishingly high values derived more than three decades earlier by Connerney and colleagues, with one region in the south receiving most of it.

The team also discovered a glowing band at a higher latitude in the southern hemisphere. This is where Saturn's magnetic field intersects the orbit of Enceladus, a geologically active moon that is shooting geysers of water ice into space, indicating that some of those particles are raining onto Saturn as well. "That wasn't a complete surprise," said Connerney. "We identified Enceladus and the E-ring as a copious source of water as well, based on another narrow dark band in that old Voyager image." The geysers, first observed by Cassini instruments in 2005, are thought to be coming from an ocean of liquid water beneath the frozen surface of the tiny moon. Its geologic activity and water ocean make Enceladus one of the most promising places to search for extraterrestrial life.

The team would like to see how the ring rain changes with the seasons on Saturn. As the planet progresses in its 29.4-year orbit, the rings are exposed to the Sun to varying degrees. Since ultraviolet light from the Sun charges the ice grains and makes them respond to Saturn's magnetic field, varying exposure to sunlight should change the quantity of ring rain.


What are Saturn’s rings made of?

It’s a good question and a very long-standing one.

You and your classmates may have seen the spectacular show being put on by Mars, which is closer now to our Earth than it will be for quite some time to come. Mars is fourth from the Sun (Earth is third), then comes Jupiter, and then sixth from the Sun, is Saturn. It’s a truly beautiful planet made particularly so by its ring system. This was first seen by Galileo in 1610, though his early telescope was not quite up to the task (he thought the rings were actually a couple of big moons on either side of the planet). The first really good photograph of Saturn, clearly showing details of the rings, was not taken until 1883 (that’s more than 2 and 1/2 centuries after Galileo’s first observation).

Actually even before this, careful observations had indicated that you could sometimes see the outline of the planet itself THROUGH some of its rings. It would therefore be pretty hard to say that the rings were one solid object, if we could see through them! So, it seems that they are not like the sort of thick-circle you might get by cutting a solid ring-like section out of a frisbee, and having it rotate around a ball at the center which would represent the planet itself. The alternative, a “non-solid rings” viewpoint, was really pinned down in 1895 when astronomers observed that the inner parts of the rings went around the planet faster than did the outer parts this would be hard to reconcile with a single solid object, wouldn’t it?

As early as forty years before these ring-speed observations it had been proposed that the rings simply couldn’t be one solid object, but had to be made up of a vast number of small objects of varying sizes. Imagine if we took our moon, broke it up into a huge number of small pieces, and then spread these into a ring system. The pieces all “connect” with each other, rather weakly, making a mobile fluid-like disk (actually Saturn has several identifiable ring systems). You can probably see that your question is leading us to other important questions, such as, what are the pieces actually made of, how thick overall are the rings, and why are the rings flat anyway?

The reason for mentioning Saturn’s position in our planetary system is that along with Jupiter we have a pair of planets that between them account for around 90% of all the matter we have in all ten of our planets. Jupiter and Saturn are often called “Gas Giants” simply because they are largely made from the most abundant element in the Universe. This is hydrogen, but it is in very highly compressed form in these planets. (You may have noticed that it’s much in the news these days as a possible energy source.) Well, this doesn’t necessarily say that the rings are made of chunks of cold, solidified hydrogen, but it’s interesting that we now know their composition to be mainly ice, that is, solid water and as you may have learned by now water (or H2O) is two-thirds hydrogen.

So ice-particles (some are big, around a few meters in size) are what mostly form the rings in which small quantities of other materials are also present. Compared with the size of the planet we know the rings must be very, very thin because Saturn (and its rings) rotate and occasionally the rings are presented to us ‘edge on’ and they are very hard to see (imagine how this must have puzzled Galileo when he looked back later and could not see the striking features that made Saturn so prominent to him in the first place). Estimates are that the ring system could be as thin as a few meters in some places.

Why so thin? Why are the ice particles not spread out all around the planet? This is a longer story and it has a lot to do with the fact that the ring system is rotating, as we said. But you can probably see that if the disk had begun to form, with many particles in it, but others were in orbits slightly tilted from it, then over the ages these tilted orbit particles would constantly be passing through the disk, once on the way up and once on the way down, so to speak. But this passage is a dangerous process for these tilted orbit particles they have a good chance of colliding with the disk particles, and even particles in orbits tilted the other way. These collisions tend to gradually reduce the tilt and a “settling into the disk” process is the result, and what we see today. Saturn also has 22 moons and they are also known to assist in keeping the ring system stable. By the way, though they are a lot more difficult to see, Uranus, Neptune and Jupiter also have rings Cornell’s astronomers had quite a hand in the discovery of Jupiter’s ring system.


Animation Shows how Saturn’s Rings Move at Different Speeds

Saturn’s rings are one of the most recognized and revered celestial objects known to the human race. From a distance, they look like a disk of layered crystal or multicolored disks within disks that wrap around Saturn’s hazy umber face. When viewed up close, we see that these rings are actually particles of water ice (from microns to icebergs), as well as silicates, carbon dioxide, and ammonia.

We would also noticed that the rings have some interesting orbital mechanics. In fact, each ring has a different orbit that is the result of its proximity to Saturn (i.e., the closer they are, the faster they orbit). To illustrate what this complex system look like, NASA Fellow Dr. James O’Donoghue created a stunning animation that shows how each of Saturn’s major ring segments (A-Ring to F-Ring) orbit together around the planet.

Born in the UK, Dr. O’Donoghue is a planetary researcher and scientist currently working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) who lives outside of Tokyo. Previously, he worked as a NASA Fellow at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center where he specialized in the research of Saturn (and its ring system), Jupiter, and their atmospheric phenomena (aurorae, the Giant Red Spot, etc.)

Dr. O’Donoghue related what inspired this animation with Universe Today via email:

“Over the years I’ve received a lot of questions about what the rings are made of and how they move. People are often surprised that the rings are made of shards of frozen water ice ranging in size from dust to icebergs and that they orbit the planet at different speeds depending on what “lane” they’re in! By the way, the rings are made of almost pure water. If they were pure water ice though, they’d look white!

As you can see from the animation, Saturn’s major rings are designated based on the order of their discovery and orbit their parent planet in the order of D, C, B, A, and F (innermost to outermost). Between the A- and F-Rings is the mysterious E-Ring, which orbits between Mimas and Titan and is extremely wide. This ring is composed of microscopic icy particles, which makes it hard to discern among the others.

The recording simulates what takes place around Saturn during the course of 30 hours. “The image of Saturn was made by images collected by the Cassini spacecraft which had been stitched together,” explained O’Donoghue. “Rendering can take a lot of time, so I thought the minimum useful animation would be to show the slowest ring lapping the planet twice.”

Saturn’s rings and moons have been the subject of scientific debate. A 2019 study showed that the migration of Saturn’s moons has widened the Cassini Division in Saturn’s rings. Credit: Cassini, Dante, Baillié and Noyelles

The orbital velocity and period of each ring is timed to illustrate the resonance the system of the rings. “The Cassini Division, the widest gap within Saturn’s rings, is caused by the resonance between a small moon called Mimas and ring particles,” said O’Donoghue. “Funnily enough, I was looking for some images on that and found something cool at UT.” (shown above).

Saturn’s own spin is indicated in white, which illustrates its rotational velocity relative to its ring system. Also visible is the persistent and rotating hexagonal vortex located around Saturn’s north pole. The animation not only presents a beautiful view of the orbital dynamics of Saturn’s rings. It also honors the Cassini mission, which ended its mission Sep. 15 th , 2017, after thirteen years around Saturn.

The data collected by the probe is still being analyzed and leading to exciting new discoveries about Saturn, its rings, and its system of moons. Before plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, Cassini conducted its “Grande Finale,” where the probe plunged into the unexplored region that lies between Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings.

The footage of Cassini’s final months, and its final descent into Saturn’s atmosphere, earned NASA an Emmy nomination.


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