An explanation for a mystery concering the structure of Saturn’s rings

Artistic concept of the particles forming Saturn's Rings (Image NASA)
Artistic concept of the particles forming Saturn’s Rings (Image NASA)

An article published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS) describes a research that provides an explanation to a mystery about Saturn’s rings applicable to those of any other celestial body. According to the international team that carried out this research, rings have a universal particle distribution following precise mathematical laws.

Saturn’s rings are the most popular because they’re the most spectacular of the solar system. However, other planets and even asteroids such as Chariklo have rings. These are structures that form most likely as a result of catastrophic events such as collisions between satellites or asteroids. So far, the size distribution of the ring fragments was a mystery but this research offers an explanation.

Professor Nikolai Brilliantov from the University of Leicester’s Department of Mathematics, one of the authors of this study, explained that the distribution of the ring fragments follows a mathematical law of inverse cubes with regard to their size. For example, fragments of 2 meters in length are 8 times less common than the ones of 1 meter in length because 8 is 2 raised to the cube. The fragments of 3 meters in length are 27 times less common than the ones of 1 meter because 27 is 3 raised to the cube.

This research focused in particular on Saturn’s rings but the rule also applies to those of Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Chariklo and any other celestial body with rings. It’s a mathematical model that can also be applied to celestial bodies outside the solar system although at the moment it’s impossible to verify it.

Another object of discussion about Saturn’s rings regards their stability. According to this new research, their status is essentially steady and not dependent on the planet’s history. This means that unless there are other catastrophic events that alter them, Saturn’s rings will exist for a very long time.

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