Mystery Moonlets Cause Constant Changes in Saturn’s F Ring

Article written: 9 Jun , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

Scientists from the Cassini mission are finding Saturn’s rings to be very dynamic; constantly changing and evolving. This is especially true for one of Saturn’s outermost rings, the F ring. This ring can change rapidly, sometimes on a timescale of hours, and astronomers believe it’s probably the only location in the solar system where large scale collisions happen on a daily basis. New images from the Cassini spacecraft have revealed unprecedented detail of this ring, including evidence that several small, unseen moons collide with other ring particles and cause perturbations called jets, streamers and fans.

Saturn’s F ring is very thin, just a few hundred kilometers wide, and is held together by two shepherd moons, Prometheus and Pandora, which orbit inside and outside the ring. For some time, scientists have suspected the presence of tiny moonlets that orbit Saturn in association with the clumpy F ring. As the small satellites move close to the F ring core they leave a gravitational signature. In some cases they can draw out material in the form of a “streamer.” Another perturbation called “jets” are the result of collisions between small nearby moonlets and the core of the F ring.

Scientists speculate that there could be several small moons with a variety of sizes that create these structures.

The leader of this analysis, Carl Murray of Queen Mary, University of London said, “Previous research has noted the features in the F ring and concluded that either another moon of radius about 100km must be present and scattering the particles in the ring, or a much smaller moonlet was colliding with its constituent particles. We can now say that the moonlet is the most likely explanation and even confirm the identity of one culprit.”

A ~5km object discovered by Cassini in 2004 (called S/2004 S 6) is the best candidate to explain some of the largest jets seen in the images.

The Cassini images also show new features called “fans” which result from the gravitational effect of small (~1km) satellites orbiting close to the F ring core.

Understanding these processes helps scientists understand the early stages of planet formation.

Professor Keith Mason, CEO of the Science and Technology Facilities Council which funds UK involvement in Cassini-Huygens said “This incredibly successful mission has taught us a great deal about the solar system and the processes at work in it. Understanding how small objects move within the dust rings around Saturn gives an insight into the processes that drive planetary formation, where the proto-planet collects material in its orbit through a dust plane and carves out similar grooves and tracks.”

Original News Source: Physorg


8 Responses

  1. Jerry says

    Universe Today has double-crossed me today; I have now lost all respect for Universe Today because of your accepting $$$ from sponsors who promote the “Openly Hate Christians for Fun” mindset. You dare smear my faith to my face? Why not just come out of your unprofessional closet all the way and rename your stinking web site (Yes, now you stink!) “Universe for Bashing Christianity Today?” Ok fine, after many years of coming here I will get my space news elsewhere! Your sponsor and you evidently come from the same cookie-cutter mold. You dare offend Christians like myself with that offensive ad-spot: “The-God-Who-Never-Was-There (*Irreverently* lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed)” May your knowledge of the shroud of Jesus the Messiah awaken you to the fear of God and may Universe Today pay for your sinful blasphemy!

  2. Astrofiend says

    Jerry Says:
    June 9th, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    “…Ok fine, after many years of coming here I will get my space news elsewhere!…”

    Well, that ad has been appearing on the site for a long time now, so either you are lying about having been coming here for years (which is sinful), or you don’t come here very often – in which case your offended tone seems a little overblown.

    I’m sure UT is basically neutral on the faith issue – they just report the science. It seems to be the infinite capacity of American bible-bashing-belt religious types to feel indignant and insulted by the tiniest little thing that is at work here.

    Try chilling out a little bit Jerry – you’re entitled to hold your faith, just as others are entitled to insult it. Ain’t living in a free society grand?!

  3. Jerry- I’ll just reiterate what Fraser and Ian have said before: the advertising on Universe Today is generated by Google. UT doesn’t choose what ads appear on the page. If you have a serious issue with the advertising, send a message with some specifics so we can understand the issues to [email protected]

  4. Dave Finton says

    Surely this discussion about the online ads could be moved to another forum that is appropriate for this sort of thing.

  5. neoguru says

    No talk on Saturn’s rings? OK – then I’ll also respond to Jerry:

    Good riddance!

    I get sooo sick of being preached at by fools. I’m glad he’s gone. (If only it were so! Betcha he’s back with the same load of crap reeel soon).

  6. David says

    and astronomers believe it’s probably the only location in the solar system where large scale collisions happen on a daily basis

    They should look closer to home then. Large scale collsions happen DAILY on planet Earth, where large wheeled vehicles collide IMO every few minutes.

  7. David says

    where the anti xtain add gone, I got all keen to see it and its gone, bummer. Poor old imaginery nailed God and all his deluded follwers, still we have the Sun, while they only have the son.

    Hail RA.

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