Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cassini Sees Collisions Of Moonlets Into Saturn F Ring


A team of scientists led from the UK has discovered that the rapid changes in Saturn's F ring can be attributed to small moonlets causing perturbations. Their results are reported in Nature (5th June 2008).
Saturn's F ring has long been of interest to scientists as its features change on timescales from hours to years and it is probably the only location in the solar system where large scale collisions happen on a daily basis. Understanding these processes helps scientists understand the early stages of planet formation.
The F ring and all the nearby objects are being continually perturbed by encounters with the shepherding moon Prometheus and this allows the gravitational signature of the embedded objects to be detected, even when the objects themselves cannot be seen.
The Cassini images also show new features (called "fans") which result from the gravitational effect of small (~1km) satellites orbiting close to the F ring core.
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