Exhibiting further proof that the universe is a violent, chaotic place, scientists at Kobe University in Japan have developed an intriguing theory on how Saturn's outer ring, the F Ring, was formed millions of years ago following the birth of its inner rings.
According to researchers Keiji Ohtsuki and Ryuki Hyodo, a cataclysmic collision between two of Saturn's companion satellites, Prometheus and Pandora, produced the narrow, 62-mile-wide rubble-strewn ring. Located 2,110 miles away from the outer edge of the planet's main ring system, it’s the most active ring in the entire solar system, displaying unique structural changes and fluctuations by the hour.
Like wounded vehicles remaining at the scene of the crime after a near-fatal head-on, these shepherd satellites' relative position and gravitational properties actually helps retain the shape and structure of the F Ring, lending credence to why and how ringed structures are created around similar planets in our solar system, like Uranus’s Epsilon ring and its pair of shepherd satellites, Cordelia and Ophelia.
Technically, Saturn’s main ring system is located inside its Roche limit, which is the distance from a planet where gravitational tidal forces will rip a moon to pieces, which explains why particles in the gas giant's primary ring system spread out instead of merging together via their own gravity to produce new moonlets.
“The most exciting thing is that in order to form the F ring by collision, the location of the collision needed to be around where F ring currently exists,” says Hyodo. “At this F ring location, the gravity of Saturn is not too strong nor too weak. Thus, the collision outcome at this location could become partial destruction where two remnant moons are left and fragments form a narrow ring between those two moons.”
The entire contents detailing the smashing discovery of Ohtsuki and Hyodo can be found at Nature Geoscience.
What do you think of this cosmic crash, and will it make you think twice next time you roll through a stop sign?