Saturn's rings

In 1921, a sensational rumor spread: Saturn's rings have disappeared! Moreover, the fragments of the destroyed rings fly in the world space towards the Sun and along the way should fall on Earth. They even called a day when a catastrophic clash was to take place...

In 1921, a sensational rumor spread: Saturn's rings have disappeared

The reason for the sensation was simply that in the aforesaid year the rings of Saturn ceased to be visible for a short time, "disappeared", in the words of the astronomical calendar. The rumor understood this expression literally as a physical disappearance, that is, the destruction of the rings of Saturn, and decorated the event with further details fitting the world catastrophe; hence the fall of the fragments of the rings to the Sun and the inevitable collision with the Earth.

What is the reason for this disappearance? The rings of Saturn are very thin; their thickness is measured by two or three dozen kilometers; in comparison with their width they have a thickness of a sheet of paper. Therefore, when the rings of Saturn become an edge to the Sun, their upper and lower surfaces are not illuminated, and they are made invisible. Invisible rings of Saturn also when they become an edge to the terrestrial observer.

The rings of Saturn are inclined to the plane of the earth's orbit at an angle of 27 degrees, but during the 29-year detour along the planetary orbit, the rings in two diametrically opposite points become an edge to the Sun and to the terrestrial observer. And at two other points, located 90 degrees from the first, Saturn's rings, on the contrary, show the Sun and Earth their greatest width - they "open up", as they say astronomers.

The size of the material particles, of which the rings of Saturn consist - from micrometers to centimeters and (less often) tens of meters. The composition of the main rings: water ice (about 99%) with impurities of silicate dust. The thickness of the rings of Saturn is extremely small in comparison with their width (from 7 to 80 thousand kilometers above the equator of Saturn) and ranges from one kilometer to ten meters.

On June 30, 2004, Cassini's research apparatus successfully flew through the rings of Saturn between the two outer rings F and G. Saturn's rings have unusual formations - "spokes", which are light and dark bands running across the rings. For the first time, spokes were discovered by the Voyager series. Since the ring of Saturn is not a single body and the inner layers rotate around the planet faster than the outer ones, the spokes must quickly collapse, but this does not happen. Although the spokes are not durable structures, they can exist substantially longer than one would expect, based on the laws of celestial mechanics. Hypotheses about the influence of electrostatic or gravitational forces on the formation of spokes are suggested.

There are several hypotheses of the appearance of Saturn's rings. All planets are formed from dust and small debris, but, perhaps, the gravitational force of Saturn is not enough to use the substance from its rings to build its planet, but it is enough to keep them away from themselves. According to another theory, Saturn collided with another rather large body, as a result of which it was destroyed and fell apart into small pieces, and then eventually spread evenly over the orbit. According to the new model, the fault is due to several successive takeovers by Saturn of its satellites, billions of years ago circling around the young gas giant. Calculations show that after the formation of Saturn, about 4,5 billion years ago, at the dawn of Solar system, around it rotated several large satellites, each of which was one and a half times more than the Moon. Because of the gravitational impact, these satellites one by one "fell" into the bowels of Saturn. In the process of descending from their orbits and entering the spiral trajectory, these satellites were destroyed. At the same time, the light ice component remained in space. Perhaps this is how the rings of Saturn.