Scientists Claim To Solve The Mystery Of Saturn’s Rings Origin

Posted: Nov 3 2016, 10:09am CDT | by , Updated: Nov 3 2016, 10:17am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 

Scientists Claim to Solve the Mystery of Saturn’s Rings Origin
Credit: NASA/JPL
 

New study claims that the rings of Saturn were formed by the pieces of Pluto-sized small planets around 4 billion years ago

Saturn has a magnificent ring system that was first observed in the 17th century. This ring system is the brightest and biggest in our solar system, stretching hundreds of thousands of kilometers from the planet. Despite all that, the origin of Saturn's rings is still unclear and the mechanisms that lead to the formation of the system are unknown.

In a latest study published in the journal Icarus, a combined team of Japanese researchers from Kobe University and Tokyo Institute of Technology has provided a new explanation for the formation of giant ring system around Saturn. Using computer simulations, researchers reconstructed a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment. The period is believed to have occurred 4 billion years ago and has possibly changed the complexion of our solar system.

Scientists theorise that giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune underwent orbital migration during that period. Several thousand Pluto-sized small objects from the Kuiper belt were also existed beyond Neptune. When those small objects strayed too close to the giant planets, the tidal force of the planets destroyed them and broken them down into pieces. And the repeated collisions between those pieces lead to the formation of Saturn’s ring system.

Researchers have also calculated the probability of giant planets getting too close to small object and then destroying them. Computer simulations also suggested that the combined mass of those broken pieces was found to be sufficient to explain the mass of the current rings around Saturn.

“These findings illustrate that the rings of giant planets are natural by-products of the formation process of the planets in our solar system. This implies that giant planets discovered around other stars likely have rings formed by a similar process.” Authors said in a statement.

Although, all giant planets in our solar system have very diverse rings, the results of the simulations still have implications for the origin of all the ring systems in our solar system. Saturn’s rings are made of almost 95% icy particles, while the rings of Uranus and Neptune are darker and may have higher rock content. 

This model can also explain the compositional difference between the rings of Saturn and Uranus or Neptune.  Compared to Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are more dense. Therefore, they probably exerted more strong tidal forces on passing objects and snagged the rocky cores of the dwarf planets, whereas Saturn likely just stripped off their icy outer layers.

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