Saturn Might Have Torn a Moon Apart to Make its Rings

Saturn's rings in all their glory. Image from the Cassini orbiter as Saturn eclipsed the Sun. Image Credit: By NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Saturn's rings in all their glory. Image from the Cassini orbiter as Saturn eclipsed the Sun. Image Credit: By NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Saturn is a world of surprises. The Voyager 1 and 2 flybys and later on, the Cassini mission, opened our collective eyes to intricate details in its rings and atmosphere. They also gave us up-close and personal looks at those amazing moons. But, one thing they didn’t show us was Saturn’s proposed moon Chrysalis. That’s because it doesn’t exist. Well, actually, it is there, but in the form of those dazzling rings.

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Jupiter's Giant Moons Prevent it From Having Rings Like Saturn

Saturn and its system of rings, acquired by the Cassini probe. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the name Saturn is uttered, what comes to mind? For most people, the answer would probably be, “its fabulous system of rings.” There’s no doubt they are iconic, but what is perhaps lesser-known is that Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune all have ring systems of their own. However, whereas Saturn’s rings are composed mainly of ice particles (making them highly reflective), Jupiter’s rings are composed mainly of dust grains. Meanwhile, Uranus and Neptune have rings of extremely dark particles known as tholins that are very hard to see. For this reason, none of the other gas giants get much recognition for their rings.

However, the question of why Jupiter doesn’t have larger, more spectacular rings than Saturn has been bothering astronomers for quite some time. As the larger and more massive of the two bodies, Jupiter should have rings that would dwarf Saturn’s by comparison. This mystery may have finally been resolved thanks to new research by a team from UC Riverside. According to their study, Jupiter’s massive moons (aka. Jupiter’s Galilean Moons) prevented it from developing a big, bright, beautiful ring system that would put Saturn’s to shame.

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Animation Shows how Saturn’s Rings Move at Different Speeds

Saturn's F ring is extremely narrow compared to the historic A, B and C rings. It measure just a few hundred kilometers across. Credit: NASA/Cassini

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.

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Enceladus Causes Snowfall On Other Moons of Saturn

Stunningly beautiful Enceladus has a subsurface ocean. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Radar evidence shows that geysers on Enceladus are ejecting water that turns to snow. The snow not only falls back on Enceladus’ surface, but also makes its way to its neighboring moons, Mimas and Tethys, making them more reflective. Researchers are calling this a ‘snow cannon.’

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Here’s Hubble’s Newest Image of Saturn

The latest view of Saturn from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captures exquisite details of the ring system — which looks like a phonograph record with grooves that represent detailed structure within the rings — and atmospheric details that once could only be captured by spacecraft visiting the distant world. Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on June 20, 2019, as the planet made its closest approach to Earth, at about 845 million miles away. This image is the second in a yearly series of snapshots taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our solar system's gas giant planets. In Saturn's case, astronomers will be able to track shifting weather patterns and other changes to identify trends. Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team

Hubble has captured a new image of Saturn that makes you wonder if it’s even real. The image is so crisp it makes it look like Saturn is just floating in space. Which it is.

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Mimas Pushes Through Saturn’s Rings Like a Snowplow

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. Image Credit: Cassini, Dante, Baillié and Noyelles

Saturn’s moon Mimas is the smallest of the gas giant’s major moons. (Saturn has 62 moons, but some of them are tiny moonlets less than 1 km in diameter.) Two new studies show how Mimas acted as a kind of snow-plow, widening the Cassini division between Saturn’s rings.

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Saturn’s Rings are Only 10 to 100 Million Years Old

Saturn's rings in all their glory. Image from the Cassini orbiter as Saturn eclipsed the Sun. Image Credit: By NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Saturn's rings in all their glory. Image from the Cassini orbiter as Saturn eclipsed the Sun. Image Credit: By NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Can you imagine the Solar System without Saturn’s rings? Can you envision Earth at the time the dinosaurs roamed the planet? According to a new paper, the two may have coincided.

Data from the Cassini mission shows that Saturn’s rings may be only 10 to 100 million years old. They may not have been there during the reign of the dinosaurs, and may in fact be a fairly modern development in our Solar System.

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Saturn is Losing its Rings, Fast. They Could be Gone Within 100 Million Years

This portrait looking down on Saturn and its rings was created from images obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic

It has been almost forty years since the Voyager 1 and 2 missions visited the Saturn system. As the probes flew by the gas giant, they were able to capture some stunning, high-resolution images of the planet’s atmosphere, its many moons, and its iconic ring system. In addition, the probes also revealed that Saturn was slowly losing its rings, at a rate that would see them gone in about 100 million years.

More recently, the Cassini orbiter visited the Saturn system and spent over 12 years studying the planet, its moons and its ring system. And according to new research based on Cassini’s data, it appears that Saturn is losing its rings at the maximum rate predicted by the Voyager missions. According to the study, Saturn’s rings are being gobbled up by the gas giant at a rate that means they could be gone in less 100 million years.

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New Photos of Saturn and Mars from Hubble

This image shows the recent observations of the planets Mars and Saturn made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, M. Mutchler (STScI), A. Simon (GSFC) and the OPAL Team, J. DePasquale (STScI)

During the summer of 2018, the planets of Mars and Saturn (one after the other) have been in opposition. In astronomical terms, opposition refers to when a planet is on the opposite side of the Earth relative to the Sun. This not only means that the planet is closer to Earth in its respective orbit, but that is also fully lit by the Sun (as seen from Earth) and much more visible.

As a result, astronomers are able to observe these planets in greater detail. The Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of this situation to do what it has done best for the past twenty-eight years – capture some breathtaking images of both planets! Hubble made its observations of Saturn in June and Mars in July, and showed both planets close to their opposition.

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Weekly Space Hangout: June 27 2018: Space News Roundup

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)
Dr. Kimberly Cartier (KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier )
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg & ChartYourWorld.org)

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