Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Saturn's Rings May Be More Massive, Older, Than Previously Thought

Date:
September 23, 2008
Source:
Europlanet
Summary:
Saturn’s rings may be more massive than previously thought, and potentially much older, according to calculations that simulate colliding particles in Saturn’s rings and their erosion by meteorites. These results support the possibility that Saturn’s rings formed billions of years ago, perhaps at the time when giant impacts excavated the great basins on the Moon. The findings also suggest that giant exoplanets may also commonly have rings.

Saturn’s rings may be more massive than previously thought, and potentially much older.
Credit: Voyager 2, NASA

Saturn’s rings may be more massive than previously thought, and potentially much older, according to calculations that simulate colliding particles in Saturn’s rings and their erosion by meteorites.

Related Articles


These results support the possibility that Saturn’s rings formed billions of years ago, perhaps at the time when giant impacts excavated the great basins on the Moon. The findings also suggest that giant exoplanets may also commonly have rings.

Dr Larry Esposito, Principal Investigator of Cassini’s UVIS instrument, will be presenting the results at the European Planetary Science Congress in Mόnster on the 23rd of September.

“Both Cassini observations and theoretical calculations can allow the rings of Saturn to be billions of years old. This means we humans are not just lucky to see rings around Saturn. This would lead us to expect massive rings also to surround giant planets circling other stars,” said Dr Esposito.

Esposito’s colleagues at the University of Colorado, Glen Stewart and Stuart Robbins, have computed the gravitational attraction and collisions between more than 100,000 particles, representing a sample of those in Saturn’s rings. They followed the orbit and history of each individual particle, and calculate the amount of starlight that would pass through the ring.

These results have been compared to Cassini observations of starlight blocked by the rings, which has traditionally been used to estimate the total amount of material in the ring system. Esposito used this method in 1983 to estimate that rings of Saturn contain as much material as Saturn’s small moon Mimas, which is about 250 miles across. The new simulations show Saturn’s ring particles aggregate into clumps, which would lead to the previous estimate being low by a factor of 3 or more.

Calculations by Esposito and his student Joshua Elliott show that meteorites slowly grind and shatter the particles in the ring. Gradually, a layer of dust and fragments builds up and covers each particle. This layer includes both ice (from the particle) and meteoritic dust. As time passes, the ring system is more polluted and darkened by meteoritic dust.

Because the rings appear so clean and bright, it was argued that the rings of Saturn were much younger than Saturn, which is some 4.5 billion years old. It was calculated from Voyager measurements that the rings are only about 100 million years old, approximately as ancient as when dinosaurs inhabited the Earth. The new calculations show that if the rings are more massive, they appear less polluted, and thus could be proportionately older. Recycling of ring material extends their lifetime and reduces the expected darkening.

One problem with this proposal for more massive and ancient rings is that the Pioneer 11 space mission to Saturn in 1979 measured the ring mass indirectly by observing charged particles created by cosmic rays bombarding the rings.

“Those mass estimates were similar to the ones from Voyager star occultations, apparently confirming the previous low mass value. However, we now recognize that the charged particles are double-valued. That means they could arise from either a small or large mass. We now see that the larger mass value could be consistent with the underestimates due to ring clumpiness,” said Dr Esposito.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Europlanet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Europlanet. "Saturn's Rings May Be More Massive, Older, Than Previously Thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922193648.htm>.
Europlanet. (2008, September 23). Saturn's Rings May Be More Massive, Older, Than Previously Thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922193648.htm
Europlanet. "Saturn's Rings May Be More Massive, Older, Than Previously Thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922193648.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — In a blog post, Google said its balloons have traveled 3 million kilometers since the start of Project Loon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Crowdfunded Moon Mission Offers To Store Your Digital Memory

Crowdfunded Moon Mission Offers To Store Your Digital Memory

Newsy (Nov. 19, 2014) — Lunar Mission One is offering to send your digital memory (or even your DNA) to the moon to be stored for a billion years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Accidents Ignite Debate on US Commercial Space Travel

Accidents Ignite Debate on US Commercial Space Travel

AFP (Nov. 19, 2014) — Serious accidents with two US commercial spacecraft within a week of each-other in October have re-ignited the debate over the place of private corporations in the exploration of space. Duration: 02:08 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lunar Mission One Could Send Your Hair to The Moon

Lunar Mission One Could Send Your Hair to The Moon

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) — A British-led venture called Lunar Mission One plans to send a module to the moon with keepsakes from Earth. Vanessa Freeman (@VanessaFreeTV) tells you how to get your photos and DNA onboard. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins