Now we know why Jupiter doesn’t have big, gorgeous rings like Saturn does

(ORDO NEWS) — Given Jupiter’s resemblance to its neighbor Saturn, it seems natural to ask why Jupiter doesn’t also have a magnificent, vast system of visible rings.

Alas, it is not. Although Jupiter has rings, they are thin, sparse, fragile dust particles visible only in the backlight of the Sun.

These discount rings lack luster because Jupiter has a rough surface, according to a new study. The Galilean moons do not allow disks of rock and dust to accumulate in the way they do around Saturn.

“I have long been concerned about why Jupiter does not have even more amazing rings that could put Saturn’s rings to shame,” astrophysicist Stephen said. Kane of the University of California at Riverside.

“If Jupiter had them, they would appear even brighter to us, because the planet is much closer than Saturn.”

While exploring the idea of ​​a giant ring system forming around Jupiter at some point in its history, Kane and his colleague, astrophysicist Zhekxing Li of the University of California, Riverside, ran a series of simulations of objects orbiting Jupiter.

These simulations took into account Jupiter’s orbital motion and the motions of its four largest moons, also known as the Galilean moons: Ganymede (larger than Mercury and the largest moon in the solar system), Callisto, Io, and Europa. To this mixture, the team added how long it might take for the ring system to form.

According to this model, Jupiter can’t have Saturn-style rings, and it’s unlikely that it ever has, the researchers say. said.

“Massive planets form massive moons, which prevents them from having significant rings,” Kane explained. “We found that Jupiter’s Galilean moons, one of which is the largest moon in our solar system, will very quickly destroy any large rings that may form.”

Jupiter’s currently fragile rings are mostly dust. ejected by some of its satellites, possibly including material ejected into space by impacts.

Saturn’s rings, on the other hand, are mostly ice; perhaps fragments of comets or asteroids, or an icy moon that either broke apart due to Saturn’s gravity or collided in such a way that the ejecta formed rings.

We know that Saturn’s moons play an important role in the formation and maintenance of its rings. But a sufficiently large moon (or moons) can also gravitationally destroy the rings, throwing ice out of planetary orbit and into a great no one knows where.

While Saturn is the planet we all think of as a ring planet, rings around planets are actually quite common, even here in the solar system.

There is, of course, Jupiter, as we have just discussed. The ice giants Neptune and Uranus also have thin, sparse dust rings.

Uranus is also tilted on its side with respect to the other planets, and its orbital axis is almost parallel to the plane of the orbit. His rings are thought to have something to do with it; either something crashed into Uranus and threw it aside, or it once had absolutely huge rings that could cause it to lean to the side.

And rings aren’t even limited to planets. A small body about 230 kilometers (143 miles) across, called Chariklo, orbiting Jupiter and Uranus, has rings.

So is the dwarf planet Haumea, dangling in the Kuiper belt along with Pluto. Modeling suggests that rings around icy bodies are not uncommon due to gravitational interactions lifting the ice off the surface of said bodies to form a rotating ring around it.

Mars can also sometimes have rings. Its satellite Phobos every year approaches the red planet just a little bit; in 100 million years, it will be close enough to be torn apart by Mars’ gravity, forming a short-lived ring that may eventually merge back into the moon. Even Saturn’s rings are likely temporary, destined to slowly rain down on the planet.

If we can study them in sufficient detail, the rings could be used to piece together certain violent aspects of the planet’s history.

“For us astronomers, it’s blood splatter on the walls of a crime scene,” Kane said. “When we look at the rings of the giant planets, this is evidence that there was some kind of catastrophe that caused this material to get there.”

In any case, it may be for the best that Big Jupe doesn’t have showy rings. Let Saturn get his. After all, Jupiter has already taken up the hexagons.

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