Dangerous distance : How the icy Moon could form the rings of Saturn

(ORDO NEWS) — Astrophysicists from MIT put forward a hypothesis according to which the rings of Saturn were formed from an “icy moon” that once exploded, approaching it at a dangerous distance. This can also explain the unusual tilt of the planet.

In 1610, the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei looked at the planets of the solar system through a telescope. It was then that he discovered that one of them was different from the others.

True, his optics were of such low quality that Galileo saw not rings, but some “appendages on both sides of Saturn.” In his diary, he wrote: “I observed the highest planet three times.”

Only almost half a century later, in 1655, the Dutchman Christian Huygens, using a more advanced telescope, was the first to see a ring structure around Saturn and wrote: “The ring is surrounded by a thin, flat, nowhere touching, inclined to the ecliptic.”

For three whole centuries after that, scientists were sure that Saturn was the only “ringed” planet among all those revolving around the Sun.

Only in 1977, astronomers almost accidentally found rings around Uranus, and two years later, the Voyager 1 spacecraft flying past Jupiter photographed faint and thin rings around this planet as well.

To date, rings have been found in all the gas giants of the solar system: Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, the asteroids Chariklo and Chiron, the dwarf planet Haumea, and hypothetically, Saturn’s moon Rhea.

That is, the phenomenon is not so rare. But Saturn is still considered the first and foremost in this series: its rings are the most visible and massive.

Oddly enough, scientists still do not have a common opinion on how these formations appear on the planets. There are two equal theories.

According to the first, the rings are formed at the stage of the birth of the planet from the remnants of protoplanetary matter – satellites are then “assembled” from it.

According to the second theory, rings, on the contrary, appear as a result of the destruction of a large satellite due to a collision with a meteorite, a large comet, or an asteroid.

With Saturn, the situation is even more confusing: even the age of its rings, consisting mainly of ice and dust, was not clear.

Planetary dynamics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology initially studied the movement of Saturn’s moons.

To date, as many as 83 of them are known, and this is an absolute record among the planets of the solar system.

Moreover, one of them – Titan – is so large that it exceeds the size of the planet Mercury and has its own dense atmosphere, which no other satellite known to us has.

After processing a huge amount of data, the researchers came to an unexpected conclusion: the presence of rings in Saturn can only be explained by the fact that once it had another large satellite, the “ice moon”, which scientists gave the name Chrysalis.

Chrysalis has orbited Saturn for billions of years, but in systems with so many elements, catastrophes are bound to happen sooner or later.

Interacting with the other 83 “brothers”, Chrysalis gradually changed its orbit, gradually descending towards the planet. When the moon came too close to Saturn, the planet’s gravity literally tore it apart.

The vast majority of the debris fell on the planet, but enough matter remained in orbit to smear it into concentric rings – Chrysalis was icy, and this explains the abundance of ice in Saturnian rings.

Astrophysicists ran almost four hundred computer simulations, varying the size and location of the hypothetical satellite.

In 17 cases out of 390, Chrysalis approached Saturn, broke apart, and then disintegrated into wide ice rings around the planet.

Scientists believe that this fully confirms their theory, although many colleagues consider such conclusions somewhat hasty, jokingly suggest waiting for the next satellite to fall on Saturn and see.

Of course, with so many moons, the likelihood of such a development of events is quite high, but still, humanity has practically no chance of catching the emergence of a new planetary ring.


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