Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New CU-Boulder study detects first known belt of moonlets in Saturn's rings

Unseen moonlets range in size from moving vans to domed sports arenas

A narrow belt harboring moonlets as large as football stadiums discovered in Saturn's outermost ring probably resulted when a larger moon was shattered by a wayward asteroid or comet eons ago, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study.

Images taken by a camera onboard the NASA Cassini spacecraft revealed a series of eight propeller-shaped "wakes" in a thin belt of the outermost "A" ring, indicating the presence of corresponding moonlets, said CU-Boulder Research Associate Miodrag Sremcevic, lead author of the study published in the Oct. 25 issue of Nature. The propeller wakes highlight tiny areas of the belt where ring material has been perturbed by the gravitational forces caused by individual moonlets, Sremcevic said.

The team calculated that there likely are thousands of moonlets ranging in size from semi-trailers to sports arenas embedded in the "A" ring's thin moonlet belt that circles the planet. At about 2,000 miles across, the belt of moonlets is only about 1/80th the diameter of Saturn's total ring system, which at roughly 155,000 miles across would stretch about two-thirds of the way from Earth to the moon.

"This is the first evidence of a moonlet belt in any of Saturn's rings," said Sremcevic of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "We have firmly established these moonlets exist in a relatively narrow region of the "A" ring, and the evidence indicates they are remnants of a larger moon that was shattered by a meteoroid or comet."

Co-authors of the Nature study include Juergen Schmidt, Martin Seiss and Frank Spahn of the University of Potsdam in Germany, Heikko Salo of the University of Oulu in Finland, and Nicole Albers of CU-Boulder's LASP. The images were taken by the Narrow Angle Camera onboard the NASA Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997 and has been orbiting the Saturn system since July 2004.

Each propeller feature is about 10 miles long, said Sremcevic, who with Spahn first predicted the existence of such propellers in Saturn's rings as an undergraduate at the University of Belgrade in 2000. While four propellers were discovered in the "A" ring in 2006 by a team led by Cornell University, Sremcevic and his colleagues looked at a much larger image sequence, allowing them to extrapolate statistically and confirm the presence of thousands of small objects in the "A" ring's moonlet belt.

The moonlets may be the result of the break-up of a ring-moon similar to Pan -- Saturn's innermost 20-mile diameter moon -- that was smashed by a comet or meteor, the team concluded. The team calculated the mass of the unseen moonlets in the belt greater than 50 feet in diameter to arrive at the estimated size of the moon involved in the collision creating the belt.

The finding supports the theory that Saturn's rings initially were created in a "collisional cascade" of ring debris begun by a catastrophic break-up of an even larger moon in the Saturn system first proposed by CU-Boulder planetary scientists Larry Esposito and Joshua Colwell in 1987. The moonlets in the newly discovered belt may have formed after Saturn's rings already were in place, which planetary scientists speculate could have been hundreds of millions or even billions of years ago.

"It seems unlikely that moonlets are remainders of a single catastrophic event that created the whole ring system, because in this case a uniform distribution would emerge," the researchers wrote in Nature. "Instead, the moonlet belt is compatible with a more recent body orbiting in the A ring."

Esposito, who was not involved in the study, said the propellers "show a striking demonstration of the lingering effects of the gravity from these small, embedded moonlets." Esposito is the chief scientist on the NASA Cassini mission's $12.5 million Ultra-Violet Imaging Spectrograph designed and built at LASP.

Sremcevic said the discovery of the moonlet belt is another piece in the puzzle regarding the formation and evolution of Saturn's rings. "We believe future studies of ring evolution will need to incorporate the findings and implications from this study."

Miodrag Sremcevic | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society

nachricht Scientists measure how ions bombard fusion device walls
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>