Saturn’s Moonlets

Saturn has the most extensive ring system in the Solar System. These rings are mostly composed of particles of water ice contaminated with traces of rocky material, varying in size from dust grains to mountain-sized chunks, laced throughout.

Rather than a number of concentric rings, Saturn’s ring system can be thought of as a disc with bright, dense clumps and darker, sparser patches occurring at different radii. Distinct gaps are relatively rare, but there are a couple of key breaks — the Cassini and Roche divisions — and several named ring gaps, features that are created and shaped by Saturn’s many moons. In places, moons have opened up spaces within the rings, clearing their orbital paths of icy particles, while in other regions gaps have opened up because of disruptive orbital resonances.

Spying Saturn’s moonlets

The major rings are named the D, C, B, A, F, G, and E rings, in order of increasing orbital distance, with others taking on monikers made up of other letters, or related to moons they are thought to be associated with.

The F ring, a section of which is featured in this image from the Cassini spacecraft, is only a few hundred kilometres wide and is the most active of Saturn’s rings, with features that shape-shift over the course of just a few hours. It has two ‘shepherding’ satellites that orbit just inside and outside its bounds, named Prometheus and Pandora respectively. However, these aren’t the only orbiting bodies associated with the F ring — it is also parent to numerous small natural satellites known as ‘moonlets’.

he image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera on 25 September 2006, at a distance of approximately 255 000 km from Saturn.The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project between NASA, ESA and Italy’s ASI space agency.

-More at European Space Agency


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