A new study conducted by NASA and its collaborators has shed light on the origin of Saturn’s iconic rings. The research suggests that the rings may have formed from the remains of two icy moons that collided and disintegrated hundreds of millions of years ago.
Researchers used advanced simulations to recreate different collision scenarios between the precursor moons. These simulations were carried out at a resolution over 100 times higher than previous studies, using the open-source simulation code called SWIFT.
Saturn’s rings are located within the Roche limit, which is the farthest distance from a planet where its gravitational force is strong enough to break apart larger bodies of rock or ice. Through nearly 200 collision event simulations, researchers discovered that several collision scenarios could disperse the right amount of ice within Saturn’s Roche limit, eventually forming its rings.
An interesting finding from the research is the absence of rocks in Saturn’s rings. According to Vincent Eke, Associate Professor at the University of Durham and co-author of the study, the collision between the icy precursor moons caused the more concentrated scattering of rocks, while the ice particles dispersed more widely.
Researchers hypothesize that the collision between the two moons was influenced by the subtle gravitational effects of the Sun. Over time, these effects destabilized the moons’ orbits around Saturn, causing their paths to intersect and result in a high-speed impact.
The team’s findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal, providing valuable insights into the formation and evolution of Saturn’s magnificent rings.
Sources: – NASA Marshall Twitter account – The Astrophysical Journal