(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists traced a long chain of events that caused Saturn’s unusual spinal tilt, and eventually led to the planet’s grandiose ring system.
Saturn boasts the largest and most beautiful ring system in the entire solar system. Their origin and age are not exactly known until now.
According to one hypothesis, the rings are several billion years old, like the planets near the Sun, and they appeared from the same protoplanetary cloud.
Others believe that the rings of Saturn are the remains of a satellite that collapsed already when the dinosaur era was on the rise on Earth. However, most of the evidence points to the second option.
The work of Jack Wisdom and his colleagues began with another unusual feature of Saturn. The axis of rotation of this planet is noticeably – by 27 ° – deviated from the perpendicular to the plane of its orbit.
The fact is that the planets are formed from a gas and dust cloud that rotates around a young star, and retain the main parameters of the movement of this cloud.
The deviation of the axis of rotation, like the Earth, is almost always the result of collisions. However, neither a body massive enough to unfold the huge Saturn nor any of its remains is known.
Therefore, it is assumed that the tilt of Saturn is caused by a unique relationship with neighboring Neptune. Saturn’s axis precesses slightly to the sides, and these oscillations coincide with the precession of Neptune’s orbit.
They are reinforced by the slow migration of Titan, the largest of Saturn’s satellites, which is gradually moving away from it by about 11 cm per year. The work of Jack Wisdom and his colleagues relied on these hypotheses.
Scientists used the results of measurements of the gravitational field of Saturn, made by the Cassini probe. However, when they refined the parameters of the planet’s rotation, it was found that the precession of its axis is no longer “synchronized” with Neptune so precisely, as if unbalanced by some extraneous influence.
The astronomers ran a series of simulations, testing different scenarios related to the migrations of Saturn’s large moons. The picture developed only when one more was added to the known satellites of the planet.
Modeling showed that a hypothetical object (the authors called it Chrysalis, Chrysalis) could be located between the orbits of Titan and Iapetus, the third largest satellite of Saturn, and gain about the same mass as Iapetus.
About 100-200 million years ago, a chaotic game of gravity between numerous moons threw it out of orbit. This brought Saturn out of resonance with Neptune and caused Titan to migrate away.
Scientists simulated these events 390 times, getting different possible scenarios. In some, Chrysalis collided with Titan or Iapetus, in others it was thrown away from the Saturn system.
But in some cases, the satellite quickly fell into the planet and was torn apart by tidal forces in its powerful gravitational field, and the remains turned into rings.
Unfortunately, in this beautiful and logical sequence of events, one thing is confusing: astronomers received such a result only in 17 simulation cycles out of 390. Whether real events went according to one of these options, so far, one can only guess.
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