Dust Reveals Clues To The Origin Of Saturn's C Ring

Posted: Dec 10 2016, 1:04pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 10 2016, 1:08pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Dust Reveals Clues to the Origin of Saturn's C Ring
Credit: NASA/JPL
 

Analysis reveals that Saturn's C ring is younger than previously thought

Saturn’s ring system is the most extensive and brightest in our solar system, consisting of seven prominent rings. The fascinating rings are named alphabetically in the order they were discovered. However, researchers aren't sure when or how these rings formed.

Using data from NASA's Cassini probe – specifically from the instrument passive microwave radiometer – researchers have now attempted to answer that question. 

Like other large rings, Saturn’s C ring is predominantly composed of water ice but it can also have dust particles ranging from size of grain to that of piece of rock. These dust particles, called micrometeorites, constantly swirl around in the space and many of them also fall on the Saturn’s rings. And these particles can reveal clues to ring’s origin.

“Saturn's rings have always challenged scientists for their provenance. Water ice comprises the bulk of Saturn's rings, yet it is the small fraction of non-icy material – the dust the ring collects – that is valuable for clues about the ring's origin and age.” Lead researcher Zhimeng Zhang from Cornell University said in a statement.

The older the ring, the more dust it will have on its top. The same is true for Saturn's C ring.  The amount of dust particles on Saturn’s C ring suggests that it may not be as old as astronomers initially thought.

“We believe that the C ring has been constantly polluted by meteoroid bombardment since it first formed, and we think the middle C ring was further contaminated by an incoming Centaur, a rocky object torn apart by tides and ultimately broken into pieces that currently reside in the middle C ring. 

“The Centaur was likely to be captured and integrated into the rings perhaps as recently as 10-20 million years ago.” Study concludes.

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