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File:Saturn eclipse exaggerated.jpg

Saturn has the most extensive planetary ring system of any planet in the Solar System. The rings of Saturn consist of countless small particles, ranging in size from micrometres to metres, that form clumps that in turn orbit about Saturn. The ring particles are made almost entirely of water ice, with some contamination from dust and other chemicals.

Although reflection from the rings increases Saturn's brightness, they are not visible from Earth with unaided vision. In 1610, the year he first turned a telescope to the sky, Galileo Galilei became the very first person to observe Saturn's rings, though he could not see them well enough to discern their true nature. In 1655, Christiaan Huygens was the first person to describe them as a disk surrounding Saturn.[1] Although many people think of Saturn's rings as being made up of a series of tiny ringlets (a concept that goes back to Laplace),[1] true gaps are few in number. It is more correct to think of the rings as an annular disk with concentric local maxima and minima in density and brightness.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name On the scale of the clumps within the rings there is a lot of empty space.

There are several gaps within the rings: two opened by known moons embedded within them, and many others at locations of known destabilizing orbital resonances with Saturn's moons. Other gaps remain unexplained. Stabilizing resonances, on the other hand, are responsible for the longevity of several rings, such as the Titan Ringlet and the G Ring.

HistoryEdit

Galileo's work
File:Galileo-sustermans4.jpg

What would later be determined to be rings, were first observed by Galileo Galilei in 1610 with his telescope, but he was unable to identify them as such. He wrote to the Duke of Tuscany that "The planet Saturn is not alone, but is composed of three, which almost touch one another and never move nor change with respect to one another. They are arranged in a line parallel to the zodiac, and the middle one (Saturn itself) is about three times the size of the lateral ones [the edges of the rings]." He also described Saturn as having "ears." In 1612 the plane of the rings was oriented directly at the Earth and the rings appeared to vanish. Mystified, Galileo wondered, "Has Saturn swallowed his children?", referring to the myth of the god Saturn eating his own children to prevent them from overthrowing him.[2] Then, in 1613, they reappeared again, further confusing Galileo.[3]

Ring theory and observations
File:Saturn Robert Hooke 1666.jpg

In 1655, Christiaan Huygens became the first person to suggest that Saturn was surrounded by a ring. Using a telescope that was far superior to those available to Galileo, Huygens observed Saturn and wrote that "It [Saturn] is surrounded by a thin, flat, ring, nowhere touching, inclined to the ecliptic."[3] Robert Hooke was an another early observer of the rings of Saturn, and noted the casting of shadows on the rings.[4]

In 1675, Giovanni Domenico Cassini determined that Saturn's ring was composed of multiple smaller rings with gaps between them; the largest of these gaps was later named the Cassini Division. This division in itself is a 4800 km-wide region between the A Ring and B Ring.[5]

In 1787, Pierre-Simon Laplace suggested that the rings were composed of a large number of solid ringlets.[1]

In 1859, James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that the rings could not be solid or they would become unstable and break apart. He proposed that the rings must be composed of numerous small particles, all independently orbiting Saturn.[6] Maxwell's theory was proven correct in 1895 through spectroscopic studies of the rings carried out by James Keeler of Lick Observatory.

Physical characteristicsEdit

File:Saturn HST 2004-03-22.jpg
File:Backlit Saturn from Cassini Orbiter 2007 May 9.png

The rings can be viewed using a quite modest modern telescope or with good binoculars. The dense main rings extend from 7 000 km to 80 000 km above Saturn's equator, with an estimated local thickness of only 10 meters[7], and are composed of 99.9 percent pure water ice with a smattering of impurities that may include tholins or silicates.[8] The main rings are primarily composed of particles ranging in size from 1 centimeter to 10 meters.[9]

While the largest gaps in the rings, such as the Cassini Division and Encke Gap, can be seen from Earth, both Voyager spacecraft discovered that the rings have an intricate structure of thousands of thin gaps and ringlets. This structure is thought to arise, in several different ways, from the gravitational pull of Saturn's many moons. Some gaps are cleared out by the passage of tiny moonlets such as Pan,[10] many more of which may yet be discovered, and some ringlets seem to be maintained by the gravitational effects of small shepherd satellites (similar to Prometheus and Pandora's maintenance of the F ring).

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name Other gaps arise from resonances between the orbital period of particles in the gap and that of a more massive moon further out; Mimas maintains the Cassini division in this manner.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name Still more structure in the rings consists of spiral waves raised by the inner moons' periodic gravitational perturbations at less disruptive resonances.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

Data from the Cassini space probe indicate that the rings of Saturn possess their own atmosphere, independent of that of the planet itself. The atmosphere is composed of molecular oxygen gas (O2) produced when ultraviolet light from the Sun interacts with water ice in the rings. Chemical reactions between water molecule fragments and further ultraviolet stimulation create and eject, among other things O2. According to models of this atmosphere, H2 is also present. The O2 and H2 atmospheres are so sparse that if the entire atmosphere were somehow condensed onto the rings, it would be on the order of one atom thick.[11] The rings also have a similarly sparse OH (hydroxide) atmosphere. Like the O2, this atmosphere is produced by the disintegration of water molecules, though in this case the disintegration is done by energetic ions that bombard water molecules ejected by Saturn's moon Enceladus. This atmosphere, despite being extremely sparse, was detected from Earth by the Hubble Space Telescope.[12]

Saturn shows complex patterns in its brightness.[13] Most of the variability is due to the changing aspect of the rings,[14][15] and this goes through two cycles every orbit. However, superimposed on this is variability due to the eccentricity of the planet's orbit that causes the planet to display brighter oppositions in the northern hemisphere than it does in the southern.[16]

In 1980, Voyager 1 made a fly-by of Saturn that showed the F-ring to be composed of three narrow rings that appeared to be braided in a complex structure; it is now known that the outer two rings consist of knobs, kinks and lumps that give the illusion of braiding, with the less bright third ring lying inside them.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

FormationEdit

File:Saturn ring detail art PIA10081-br500.jpg

Saturn's rings may be very old, dating to the formation of Saturn itself. There are two main theories regarding the origin of Saturn's rings. One theory, originally proposed by Édouard Roche in the 19th century, is that the rings were once a moon of Saturn whose orbit decayed until it came close enough to be ripped apart by tidal forces (see Roche limit).[17] A variation of this theory is that the moon disintegrated after being struck by a large comet or asteroid.[18] The second theory is that the rings were never part of a moon, but are instead left over from the original nebular material from which Saturn formed.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

It seems likely however that they are composed of debris from the disruption of a moon about 300 km in diameter, bigger than Mimas. The last time there were collisions large enough to be likely to disrupt a moon that large was during the Late Heavy Bombardment some four billion years ago.[19]

The brightness and purity of the water ice in Saturn's rings has been cited as evidence that the rings are much younger than Saturn, perhaps by 100 million years, as the infall of meteoric dust would have led to darkening of the rings. However, new research indicates that the B Ring may be massive enough to have diluted infalling material and thus avoided substantial darkening over the age of the Solar system. Ring material may be recycled as clumps form within the rings and are then disrupted by impacts. This would explain the apparent youth of some of the material within the rings.[20]

The Cassini UVIS team, led by Larry Esposito, used stellar occultation to discover 13 objects, ranging from 27 meters to 10 km across, within the F ring. They are translucent, suggesting they are temporary aggregates of ice boulders a few meters across. Esposito believes this to be the basic structure of the Saturnian rings, particles clumping together, then being blasted apart.[21]

Subdivisions and structures within the ringsEdit

The densest parts of the Saturnian ring system are the A and B Rings, which are separated by the Cassini Division (discovered in 1675 by Giovanni Domenico Cassini). Along with the C Ring, which was discovered in 1850 and is similar in character to the Cassini Division, these regions comprise the main rings. The Main Rings are denser and contain larger particles than the tenuous dusty rings. The latter include the D Ring, extending inward to Saturn's cloud tops, the G and E Rings and others beyond the main ring system. The word "dusty" used to characterize these diffuse rings refers to the small size of the particles (often about a micrometre); their chemical composition is, like the main rings, almost entirely of water ice. The narrow F Ring, just off the outer edge of the A Ring, is more difficult to categorize; parts of it are very dense, but it also contains a great deal of dust-size particles.

Magnify-clip
Natural-color mosaic of Cassini narrow-angle camera images of the unilluminated side of Saturn's D, C, B, A and F rings (left to right) taken on May 9, 2007.
File:Saturn's ring plane.jpg

Major subdivisions of the ringsEdit

Name(3) Distance from Saturn
(from center, in km)(4)
Width (km)(4) Named after
D Ring 66 900–74 510 7 500  
C Ring 74 658–92 000 17 500  
B Ring 92 000–117 580 25 500  
Cassini Division 117 580–122 170 4 700 Giovanni Cassini
A Ring 122 170–136 775 14 600  
Roche Division 136 775–139 380 2 600 Édouard Roche
F Ring 140 180 (1) 30–500  
Janus/Epimetheus Ring(2) 149 000–154 000 5 000 Janus and Epimetheus
G Ring 170 000–175 000 5 000  
Methone Ring Arc(2) 194 230 ? Methone
Anthe Ring Arc(2) 197 665 ? Anthe
Pallene Ring(2) 211 000–213 500 2 500 Pallene
E Ring 181 000–483 000 302 000  

Structures within the C RingEdit

Name(3) Distance from Saturn's center (km)(4) Width (km)(4) Named after
Colombo Gap 77 870 (1) 150 Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo
Titan Ringlet 77 870 (1) 25 Titan, moon of Saturn
Maxwell Gap 87 491 (1) 270 James Clerk Maxwell
Maxwell Ringlet 87 491 (1) 64 James Clerk Maxwell
Bond Gap 88 705 (1) 30 William Cranch Bond and George Phillips Bond
1.470RS Ringlet 88 716 (1) 16 its radius
1.495RS Ringlet 90 171 (1) 62 its radius
Dawes Gap 90 210 (1) 20 William Rutter Dawes

Structures within the Cassini Division[22]Edit

Name(3) Distance from Saturn's center (km)(4) Width (km)(4) Named after
Huygens Gap 117 680 (1) 285-400 Christiaan Huygens
Huygens Ringlet 117 848 (1) ~17 Christiaan Huygens
Herschel Gap 118 234 (1) 102 William Herschel
Russell Gap 118 614 (1) 33 Henry Norris Russell
Jeffreys Gap 118 950 (1) 38 Harold Jeffreys
Kuiper Gap 119 405 (1) 3 Gerard Kuiper
Laplace Gap 119 967 (1) 238 Pierre-Simon Laplace
Bessel Gap 120 241 (1) 10 Friedrich Bessel
Barnard Gap 120 312 (1) 13 Edward Emerson Barnard

Structures within the A RingEdit

Name(3) Distance from Saturn's center (km)(4) Width (km)(4) Named after
Encke Gap 133 589 (1) 325 Johann Encke
Keeler Gap 136 530 (1) 35 James Keeler

Notes:
(1) distance is to centre of gaps, rings and ringlets that are narrower than 1000 km
(2) unofficial name
(3) Names as designated by the International Astronomical Union, unless otherwise noted. Broader separations between named rings are termed divisions, while narrower separations within named rings are called gaps.
(4) Data mostly from the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, a NASA factsheet and several papers.[23][24][25]

Magnify-clip
Oblique (4 degree angle) Cassini images of Saturn's C, B, and A rings (left to right; the F ring is faintly visible in the full size upper image if viewed at sufficient brightness). Upper image: natural color mosaic of Cassini narrow-angle camera photos of the illuminated side of the rings taken on December 12, 2004. Lower image: simulated view constructed from a radio occultation observation conducted on May 3, 2005. Color in the lower image is used to represent information about ring particle sizes.

D RingEdit

File:D ring structure.jpg

The D Ring is the innermost ring, and is very faint. In 1980, Voyager 1 detected within this ring three ringlets designated D73, D72 and D68, with D68 being the discrete ringlet nearest to Saturn. Some 25 years later Cassini images showed that D72 had become significantly fainter and moved planetward by 200 kilometres. Present in the gap between the C ring and D73 is finescale structure with waves 30 kilometres apart.[26]

C RingEdit

The C Ring is a wide but faint ring located inward of the B Ring. It was discovered in 1850 by William and George Bond, though William R. Dawes and Johann Galle also saw it independently. William Lassell termed it the "Crepe Ring" because it seemed to be composed of darker material than the brighter A and B Rings.[27]

Its vertical thickness is estimated at 5 metres, its mass at around 1.1 × 1018 kilograms, and its optical depth varies from 0.05 to 0.12.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name That is, 5 and 12 percent of light shining through perpendicular to the ring is blocked, so that when seen from above or below, the ring is close to transparent.
File:PIA06540 Outer C Ring.jpg

Colombo Gap and Titan RingletEdit

The Colombo Gap lies in the inner C Ring. Within the gap lies the bright but narrow Colombo Ringlet, centered at 77 883 kilometers from Saturn's center, which is slightly elliptical rather than circular. This ringlet is also called the Titan Ringlet as it is governed by an orbital resonance with the moon Titan.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name At this location within the rings, the time period of a ring particle's apsidal precession is equal to the time period of Titan's orbital motion, so that the outer end of this eccentric ringlet always points towards Titan.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

Maxwell Gap and RingletEdit

The Maxwell Gap lies within the outer part of the C Ring. It also contains a dense non-circular ringlet, the Maxwell Ringlet. In many respects this ringlet is similar to the ε ring of Uranus. There are wave-like structures in the middle of both rings. While the wave in the ε ring is thought to be caused by uranian moon Cordelia, no moon has been discovered in the Maxwell gap as of July 2008.[21]

B RingEdit

The B Ring is the largest, brightest, and most massive of the rings. Its thickness is estimated as 5 to 15 metres, its mass at 2.8 × 1019 kg, and its optical depth varies from 0.4 to 2.5, meaning that well over 99% of the light passing through some parts of the B Ring is blocked.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name The B Ring contains a great deal of variation in its density and brightness, nearly all of it unexplained. These are concentric, appearing in the form of narrow ringlets, though the B Ring does not contain any gaps.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

SpokesEdit

File:Spokes-half size.gif

Up until 1980, the structure of the rings of Saturn was explained as being caused exclusively by the action of gravitational forces. Then images from the Voyager spacecraft showed radial features in the B ring, known as spokes, which could not be explained in this manner, as their persistence and rotation around the rings was not consistent with orbital mechanics.[28] The spokes appear dark in backscattered light, and bright in forward-scattered light (see images in gallery). The leading theory regarding the spokes' composition is that they consist of microscopic dust particles suspended away from the main ring by electrostatic repulsion, as they rotate almost synchronously with the magnetosphere of Saturn. The precise mechanism generating the spokes is still unknown, although it has been suggested that the electrical disturbances might be caused by either lightning bolts in Saturn's atmosphere or micrometeoroid impacts on the rings.[29]

The spokes were not observed again until some twenty-five years later, this time by the Cassini space probe. The spokes were not visible when Cassini arrived at Saturn in early 2004. Some scientists speculated that the spokes would not be visible again until 2007, based on models attempting to describe their formation. Nevertheless, the Cassini imaging team kept looking for spokes in images of the rings, and they were next seen in images taken on September 5, 2005.[30]

The spokes appear to be a seasonal phenomenon, disappearing in the Saturnian midwinter/midsummer and reappearing as Saturn comes closer to equinox. Suggestions that the spokes may be a seasonal effect, varying with Saturn's 29.7-year orbit, were supported by their gradual reappearance in the later years of the Cassini mission.[31]

Cassini DivisionEdit

File:Cassini Division.jpg

The Cassini Division is a 4,800 km (2,980 mile) wide region between the A Ring and B Ring. It was discovered in 1675 by Giovanni Cassini. From Earth it appears as a thin black gap in the rings. However, Voyager discovered that the gap is itself populated by ring material bearing much similarity to the C Ring.[21] The division may appear bright in views of the unlit side of the rings, since the relatively low density of material allows more light to be transmitted through the thickness of the rings (see second image in gallery).

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

The inner edge of the Cassini Division is governed by a strong orbital resonance. Ring particles at this location orbit twice for every orbit of the moon Mimas.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name The resonance causes Mimas' pulls on these ring particles to accumulate, destabilizing their orbits and leading to a sharp cutoff in ring density. Many of the other gaps between ringlets within the Cassini Division, however, are unexplained.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

Huygens GapEdit

The Huygens Gap is located at the inner edge of the Cassini Division. It contains a dense eccentric ringlet named Huygens Ringlet in the middle. This ringlet demonstrates irregular azimuthal variations of the geometrical width and optical depth, which can be caused by the nearby strong 2:1 resonance with Mimas and by the influence of the eccentric outer edge of the B-ring. There is an additional narrow ringlet just outside the Huygens Ringlet.[21]

A RingEdit

File:PIA06534 Encke Division.jpg

The A Ring is the outermost of the large, bright rings. Its inner boundary is the Cassini Division and its sharp outer boundary is close to the orbit of the small moon Atlas. The A Ring is interrupted at a location 22% of the ring width from its outer edge by the Encke Gap. A narrower gap 2% of the ring width from the outer edge is called the Keeler Gap.

The thickness of the A Ring is estimated as 10 to 30 metres, its mass as 6.2 × 1018 kg (about the mass of Hyperion), and its optical depth varies from 0.4 to 1.0.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

Similarly to the B Ring, the A Ring's outer edge is maintained by an orbital resonance, in this case the 7:6 resonance with Janus and Epimetheus.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name Other orbital resonances also excite many spiral density waves in the A Ring (and, to a lesser extent, other rings as well), which account for most of its structure. These waves are described by the same physics that describes the spiral arms of galaxies. Spiral bending waves, also present in the A Ring and also described by the same theory, are vertical corrugations in the ring rather than compression waves.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

Encke GapEdit

File:PIA08319 Daphnis in Keeler Gap.jpg

The Encke Gap is a 325-kilometre-wide gap within the A Ring, centered at a distance of 133,590 kilometers from Saturn's center.[32] It is caused by the presence of the small moon Pan,[33] which orbits within it. Images from the Cassini probe have shown that there are at least three thin, knotted ringlets within the gap.[21] Spiral density waves visible on both sides of it are induced by resonances with nearby moons exterior to the rings, while Pan induces an additional set of spiraling wakes (see image in gallery).[21]

Johann Encke himself did not observe this gap; it was named in honour of his ring observations. The gap itself was discovered by James Edward Keeler in 1888.[34] The second major gap in the A Ring, discovered by Voyager, was named the Keeler Gap in his honor.[35]

The Encke Gap is a gap because it is entirely within the A Ring. There was some ambiguity between the terms gap and division until the IAU clarified the definitions in 2008; prior to that, the separation was sometimes called the "Encke Division".

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Keeler GapEdit

The Keeler Gap is a 42-kilometre-wide gap in the A Ring, approximately 250 kilometres from the ring's outer edge. It is named after the astronomer James Edward Keeler. The small moon Daphnis, discovered May 1 2005, orbits within it, keeping it clear.[36] The moon induces waves in the edges of the gap.[21]

The Keeler gap discovered by Voyager, was named the Keeler Gap in honor of J. E. Keeler. Keeler had in turn discovered and named the Enecke Gap in honor of Johann Encke [37]

MoonletsEdit

File:Propeller moonlets PIA10505.jpg

In 2006, four tiny "moonlets" were found in Cassini images of the A Ring (see image in gallery).[38] The moonlets themselves are only about a hundred meters in diameter, too small to be seen directly; what Cassini sees are the "propeller"-shaped disturbances the moonlets create, which are several km across. It is estimated that the A Ring contains thousands of such objects. In 2007, the discovery of eight more moonlets revealed that they are largely confined to a 3000-km belt, about 130 000 km from Saturn's center.[39] Over 150 "propeller" moonlets have now been detected.[40]

Roche DivisionEdit

File:Roche.jpg

The separation between the A Ring and the F Ring has been named the Roche Division in honor of the French physicist Édouard Roche.[1] The Roche Division should not be confused with the Roche limit, a physical concept that describes when a large object gets so close to a planet (such as Saturn) that the planet's tidal forces will pull it apart.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name Lying at the outer edge of the main ring system, the Roche Division is in fact close to Saturn's Roche limit, which is why the rings have been unable to accrete into a moon.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name

Like the Cassini Division, the Roche Division is not empty but contains a sheet of material.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name The character of this material is similar to the tenuous and dusty D, E, and G Rings.
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name Two locations in the Roche Division have a higher concentration of dust than the rest of the region. These were discovered by the Cassini probe imaging team and were given temporary designations: R/2004 S 1, which lies along the orbit of

the moon Atlas; and R/2004 S 2, centered at 138,900 km from Saturn's center, inward of the orbit of Prometheus.

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F RingEdit

File:PIA07712 - F ring animation.gif

The F Ring is the outermost discrete ring of Saturn and perhaps the most active ring in the Solar system, with features changing on a timescale of hours.[41] It is located 3000 km beyond the outer edge of the A Ring.[42] It was discovered in 1979 by the Pioneer 11 imaging team.[43] It 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 it.[33]

Recent closeup images from the Cassini probe show that the F Ring consists of one core ring and a spiral strand around it.[44] They also show that when Prometheus encounters the ring at its apoapsis, its gravitational attraction creates kinks and knots in the F Ring as the moon 'steals' material from it, leaving a dark channel in the inner part of the ring (see video link and additional F Ring images in gallery). Since Prometheus orbits Saturn more rapidly than the material in the F ring, each new channel is carved about 3.2 degrees in front of the previous one.[41]

In 2008, further dynamism was detected, suggesting that small unseen moons orbiting within the F Ring are continually passing through its narrow core due to perturbations from Prometheus. One of the small moons was tentatively identified as S/2004 S 6.[41]

Magnify-clip
A mosaic of 107 images showing 255° (about 70%) of the F Ring as it would appear if straightened out. The radial width (top to bottom) is 1500 km.

Outer RingsEdit

File:Saturn outer rings labeled.jpg
File:PIA11101 Anthe ring arc.jpg
File:E ring with Enceladus.jpg

"Janus/Epimetheus" RingEdit

A faint dust ring is present around the region occupied by the orbits of Janus and Epimetheus, as revealed by images taken in forward-scattered light by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006. The ring has a radial extent of about 5000 km [45]. Its source is particles blasted off the moons' surfaces by meteoroid impacts, which then form a diffuse ring around their orbital paths.[46]

G RingEdit

The G Ring (see last image in gallery) is a very thin, faint ring about halfway between the F Ring and the beginning of the E Ring, with its inner edge about 15000 km inside the orbit of Mimas. It contains a single distinctly brighter "arc" near its inner edge (similar to the arcs in the rings of Neptune) that extends about one sixth of its circumference, centered on the moonlet S/2008 S 1, which is held in place by a 7:6 orbital resonance with Mimas.[47][48] The arc is believed to be composed of icy particles up to a few meters in diameter, with the rest of the G Ring consisting of dust released from within the arc. The radial width of the arc is about 250 km, compared to a width of 6000 km for the G Ring as a whole.[47] The arc is thought to be the remains of a small icy moonlet about a hundred meters in diameter that broke up relatively recently.

See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name Dust released from S/2008 S 1 by micrometeoroid impacts drifts outward from the arc due to interaction with Saturn's magnetosphere (whose plasma corotates with Saturn's magnetic field, which rotates much more rapidly than the orbital motion of the G Ring). These tiny particles are steadily eroded away by further impacts and dispersed by plasma drag. Over the course of thousands of years the ring will gradually lose mass and eventually disappear.[49]
See also: Error: Template must be given at least one article name[S/2008 S 1 may change all this]

"Methone" Ring ArcEdit

A faint ring arc, first detected in Sept. 2006, covering a longitudinal extent of about 10 degrees is associated with the moon Methone. The material in the arc is believed to represent dust ejected from Methone by micrometeoroid impacts. The confinement of the dust within the arc is attributable to a 14:15 resonance with Mimas (similar to the mechanism of confinement of the arc within the G ring).[50] Under the influence of the same resonance, Methone librates back and forth in its orbit with an amplitude of 5° of longitude.

"Anthe" Ring ArcEdit

A faint ring arc, first detected in June 2007, covering a longitudinal extent of about 20 degrees is associated with the moon Anthe. The material in the arc is believed to represent dust knocked off Anthe by micrometeoroid impacts. The confinement of the dust within the arc is attributable to a 10:11 resonance with Mimas. Under the influence of the same resonance, Anthe drifts back and forth in its orbit over 14° of longitude.[50]

"Pallene" RingEdit

A faint dust ring shares Pallene's orbit, as revealed by images taken in forward-scattered light by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006.[45] The ring has a radial extent of about 2,500 km. Its source is particles blasted off Pallene's surface by meteoroid impacts, which then form a diffuse ring around its orbital path.[46]

E RingEdit

The E Ring is the outermost ring, and is extremely wide, beginning at the orbit of Mimas and ending somewhere around the orbit of Rhea. It is a diffuse disk consisting mostly of ice, with silicates, carbon dioxide and ammonia.[51] Unlike the other rings, it is composed of microscopic rather than macroscopic particles. In 2005, the source of the E Ring's material was determined to be cryovolcanic plumes[52][53] emanating from the "tiger stripes" of the south polar region of the moon Enceladus.

Possible ring system around RheaEdit

Main article: Rings of Rhea

Saturn's second largest moon Rhea may have a tenuous ring system of its own consisting of three narrow bands embedded in a disk of solid particles.[54][55] These rings have not been imaged, but their existence has been inferred from Cassini observations in November 2005 of a depletion of energetic electrons in Saturn's magnetosphere near Rhea. The Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument (MIMI) observed a gentle gradient punctuated by three sharp drops in plasma flow on each side of the moon in a nearly symmetric pattern. This could be explained if they were absorbed by solid material in the form of an equatorial disk containing denser rings or arcs, with particles perhaps several decimeters to approximately a meter in diameter. However, not all scientists are convinced that the observations were caused by a ring system.

GalleryEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

  • Édouard Roche - French astronomer who described how the breakup of a satellite could form the rings, when it comes within the Roche limit of a celestial body.
  • Galileo Galilei - the first person to observe Saturn's rings, in 1610
  • Christian Huygens - the first person to propose that there was a ring surrounding Saturn, in 1655
  • Giovanni Cassini - discovered the separation between the A and B rings, in 1675 - (Cassini Division)

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