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Remains of Shattered Moon Found in Saturn's Rings 112

Posted by samzenpus
from the deathstar-wanted-for-questioning dept.
Riding with Robots writes "Scientists have announced that they have used images from the robotic spacecraft Cassini to find moonlets embedded in Saturn's outer rings that are likely the remains of a larger moon that was shattered by an asteroid or comet. The team from the University of Colorado at Boulder that made the discovery has now posted details and pictures."
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Remains of Shattered Moon Found in Saturn's Rings

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  • by albeit unknown (136964) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @11:45PM (#21109203)
    It's a space station!
    • by creimer (824291)
      Worse... It's the Saturn Three [imdb.com] space station!
    • by Marrshu (994708)
      ...or rather it WAS A space station
    • by RuBLed (995686) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @12:58AM (#21109659)
      *Force Choke* [xkcd.com]
      • by !eopard (981784)
        I have been seeing relevant xkcd links in a lot of recent /. discussions recently. Is there no topic that they haven't covered? Or is the author following /. stories and quickly making up something that will fit? o_0
        • by john83 (923470)

          There's only been about 300 of them, but the author seems to be very much in tune with the /. crowd. There are only so many popular nerdy themes! I thoroughly recommend you browse through his archive - it's a very fun hour or so. Now, off to the String theory video thread to see if anyone's posted this [xkcd.com] yet.

          In an unrelated note, posters warning of possible raptor entry points have appeared in my building recently. (It's not my doing.)

          • by Zaatxe (939368)
            Somebody has already posted this one. I even printed it and put it on the wall by my desk at work! I changed to another desk since then, but it's still there.
    • by gerf (532474) <edtgerf@gmail.com> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @01:31AM (#21109815) Journal

      I blame this moon catastrophe on Global Warming.

      After all, before global warming, no one had ever in history seen a moon being decimated like this. I estimate that by 2050 half of the moons will be destroyed by meteors and death stars. The moons of some planets and pseudo planets may be spared, but most will be devastated. Their rubble will fall upon our metropolitan areas and million dollar summer homes, leaving us homeless and starving for food.

      We have all seen the horrific California wildfires this week. We've also seen the huge fireballs created by Schoemaker-Levy, which was near to this moon explosion. Obviously, something is going extremely wrong here!

      I propose that we blow these moons before they get blown themselves. We can then control how and where the remnants fall. To do this, we need an old song that's still catchy, a bunch of nukes and some hillbillies with mental and drug disorders.

      This program may very well hinder our economy. Because of this, any country that endeavors to be more advanced than any other country will be taxed into oblivion. We must have equality when taxing every single person for this project, after all. With enough hard work, we shall prevail over this imminent danger!

      • by beckerist (985855)
        <nitpick>Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted Jupiter, which while in cosmological terms might be nearby, is certainly not THAT close to Saturn!</nitpick>
      • I blame this moon catastrophe on Global Warming.

        After all, before global warming, no one had ever in history seen a moon being decimated like this. I estimate that by 2050 half of the moons will be destroyed by meteors and death stars. The moons of some planets and pseudo planets may be spared, but most will be devastated. Their rubble will fall upon our metropolitan areas and million dollar summer homes, leaving us homeless and starving for food.

        Global Warming is the problem, but not for that reason. W

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by laejoh (648921)

      It's a space station!

      There, matey, I know a dead space station when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now! 'I's not pinin'! 'I's passed on! This space station is no more! It has ceased to be! 'It's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'I's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'I rests in peace! 'I's off the twig! 'I's kicked the bucket, 'I's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-SPACE STATION!!

      There, I corrected that for you!

      • by HTH NE1 (675604)

        There, matey, I know a dead space station when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now! 'I's not pinin'! 'I's passed on! This space station is no more! It has ceased to be! 'It's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'I's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'I rests in peace! 'I's off the twig! 'I's kicked the bucket, 'I's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-SPACE STATION!!

        Well, I'd better replace it, then. [Quick glances at console.] Sorry squire, I've had a look 'round the back of the planet, and uh, we're right out of space stations.

        I see. I see, I get the picture.

        I got a shuttle.

        [pause]
        Pray, does it shoot planet-destroying death rays?

        Nnnnot really.

        WELL IT'S HARDLY A BLOODY REPLACEMENT, IS IT?!!???!!?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Now, we all know it's a flippin' Monolith. Now to send a diabolical, untrustworthy computer to go investigate it.
      • by El Torico (732160)

        Now to send a diabolical, untrustworthy computer to go investigate it.

        I nominate my new laptop; with the crapware and Vista, it qualifies.

  • Two earthworms in love?
  • I was disappointed when I found out that asteroid belts don't really look like the one we saw in Empire Strikes Back. It's been suggested that a planetary ring system would be a more likely candidate for closely-spaced celestial objects to fly around. Is that the case or would the closest object still be too tiny to resolved with the unaided eye?
    • by sighted (851500) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @12:05AM (#21109323) Homepage
      At least in some places, the ring particles are quite close together. Check out this illustration [seti.org]. The particles vary in size from dust grains to boulders as big as buildings. The wildest thing is that the rings are about 280,000 km wide, but less than one thick.
      • by sighted (851500) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @12:11AM (#21109363) Homepage
        These Cassini images [nasa.gov] are interesting, too, and I think relate to the main story.
      • The wildest thing is that the rings are about 280,000 km wide, but less than one thick.
        Measured how? I understand the "thick" measurement but is "wide" from the core of the planet outward? Or all the way around the planet?
      • by ozphx (1061292) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @03:22AM (#21110317) Homepage
        Its not that amazing. I'd hate to be the poor chump of a rock whose offset orbit intersects with eleventy billion tonnes of rocks orbiting at another angle ;)

        Put another way, if you are a couple of k's below the rings on one side, you'll be a couple of k's above on the other. Between those two points are all the other rocks that have been persuaded (pummeled) into not bucking the system. Also they are very big. And angry. And very willing to give you a bit of the newtons laws up the wazoo to persuade you to move with the herd again.

        You might also be eaten by a grue.
        • And very willing to give you a bit of the newtons laws up the wazoo to persuade you to move with the herd again.

          As I see it objects which have a little bit of out of plane momentum will transfer that component to the ring particles they collide with and drop into a lower orbit in the ring plane. Particles with a lot of out of plane momentum will fall right into Saturn. The out of plane momentum can't be turned into momentum in the ring plane.

          • by vrmlguy (120854)
            You do realize that your sentences contradict each other, don't you? Your statement, "out of plane momentum can't be turned into momentum in the ring plane", applies to both positive and negative momentum. You can't use out of plane momentum to slow down nor speed up your orbit; this means that particles won't be falling into Saturn. (In-plane transfers are another matter, of course. Even so, you won't see cinematic meteor showers raining down over the planet.) See for more info. Be warned, there's a
    • the particles generally range from dust sized to very large objects much larger than a house and jusging from how much space the rings occupy, it should still be pretty empty in comparison to cluttered debris fields in movies.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @11:50PM (#21109247)
    The presence of planetary rings indicates a relatively recent astronomical event like this. Since Saturn has these pronounced rings, it cannot have been too long ago (in cosmic terms) that something like a moon or large planetoid was disintegrated in its vicinity. Eventually, the gravity of Saturn will suck the rings in and the cool ringed planet will become the ex-ringed planet.

    Neptune is another planet with rings which are far fainter, so it is likely that Neptune's lunar disintegration event happened to a much smaller object somewhat longer ago.

    Uranus, if it ever had rings, has swept clean its area. While not as pretty as a ringed planet, Uranus may pose less of a danger to probes since less damaging material encircles the planet.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DJCacophony (832334)
      Eventually, the gravity of Saturn will suck the rings in

      The particles in Saturns rings are in no more of a decaying orbit around Saturn than the Moon is around Earth. The demise of the rings around Saturn will occur when they eventually dissipate into space over the course of tens of millions of years.
      • by chgros (690878)
        tens of millions of years
        You mean tens of billions I assume? And by dissipate you mean sublimate?
        • You mean tens of billions I assume?

          The PP is right, it's tens of millions, at least according to one of Isaac Asimov's science essays I read a while back.
          In astronomical timescales, structures of the magnitude of Saturn's rings exist for the equivalent of an eyeblink. In fact, it's not too much of a stretch to assume that each of the gas giants have gone through more than one of these "brief" events. Humanity is quite lucky to be around during one of them.

          Too bad it wasn't Jupiter with the large-scale str
      • Why won't the rings coalesce into a moon? Isn't that how they say moons and planets form?
      • Uh, no. Saturn's rings have no way to escape the planet's gravity, either.

        What happens over long timescales is that the rings spread through collisions and gravitational encounters. Some particles are sent inwards, others outwards. (More of the former than the latter, typically.) Eventually, the particles will either get close enough to the planet to feel the atmosphere (the D ring is around 5,000 km from the 'top' of the atmosphere already) or spread far enough out that they'll get swept up by a moon.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ozphx (1061292)

      Uranus, if it ever had rings, has swept clean its area. While not as pretty as a ringed planet, Uranus may pose less of a danger to probes since less damaging material encircles the planet.


      I bleach my ring you insensitive clod!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Uranus may pose less of a danger to probes...."

      I'm quite sure that probes pose much more of a danger to Uranus.

    • Uranus, if it ever had rings, has swept clean its area.


      Uranus has rings right now...

      No, that's not a joke, I'm serious, it does [wikipedia.org].
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)
        Heh. I wasn't aware of that. That, btw, is a spectacular photo of Uranus. I wonder what those red splotchy things on Uranus are.

        What's particularly striking is how the outer rings are perpendicular to the rings right on Uranus. I can't imagine that they'd have been created as part of some natural discharge from Uranus.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by gerf (532474)

      Uranus may pose less of a danger to probes since less damaging material encircles the planet.

      I hope you realize what you've just said?

      • Yeah, apparently Uranus does have rings. Someone else mentioned it in another post.

        But despite the rings, I was amused to learn that Uranus has a wet surface. If this is true, it's not out of the realm of possibility that there may be something growing on Uranus. The pictures also indicate a lot of gas, so I wouldn't be too fast to pull the plug on Uranus. Certainly more exploration and examination of Uranus is warranted.
    • All four giant planets have rings, there is just considerable variation in them.

      As I've noted in another reply, the evolutionary path of rings is not entirely clear. There are a myriad of processes, from collisional grinding to accretion to gravitational scattering to resonances to E&M effects that play roles in the story. How large a role each plays and the timescales are generally a matter of debate. It is possible, according to some researchers, that the rings are as old as the planet (or very near
      • I can't begin to imagine the type of satisfaction you derive from your ring research. Saturn must be spectacular. Neptune, with its rings is really beautiful. Then again, Uranus is unremarkable.
    • by blahlemon (638963)
      QUOTE: Uranus, if it ever had rings, has swept clean its area. While not as pretty as a ringed planet, Uranus may pose less of a danger to probes since less damaging material encircles the planet.

      I hear the starship Enterprise does much the same thing with Klingons.

      I disagree with you on one matter though sir...

      I believe Uranus is in more danger of probes, especially with age.

  • I thought that this rawstory.com quote put it in perspective:

    Two hypotheses prevail as to how Saturn acquired its seven rings.

    One is that the rings were born at the same time as the planet itself -- they were left-over debris that became enslaved to the gas giant, doomed to orbit it for eternity.

    The other is that the rings were the remains of large icy moons that broke into smaller pieces over time.

    The problem with this latter theory has been that collisions of such a kind normally create debris in a wide range of sizes, from big lumps a kilometer (half a mile) wide to pebbles a few centimetres (inches) across.

    The big pieces are already known, for there are kilometre- (half-mile) moons called Pan, Daphnis and Atlas that jostle their way around the rings, and photographs taken by scout probes have shown countless small pieces.

    Until last year, what was missing were the medium-size pieces.

  • Leftovers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lamarguy91 (1101967)
    From the aricle:

    "It seems unlikely that moonlets are remainders of a single catastrophic event that created the whole ring system, because in this case a uniform distribution would emerge"

    From the summary:

    "...moonlets embedded in Saturn's outer rings that are likely the remains of a larger moon that was shattered by an asteroid or comet."

    So the article says that it's unlikely that it was a single event. The summary says that it was a moon being shattered, which of course would fit the definition of a single catastrophic event. What am I overlooking here?

    • I think that they mean to say that whatever process created the rings, it did not create it in it's current state. It cretaed it sort of like we see it today, but with more moons.
      Then over the millenia several of those moons became involved in collisions that generated the moonlets which we see today.
  • If there are chunks that big and so much matter all in one pretty flat disk (ie close to each other) then how come it doesn't all suck itself into one big piece? That's what supposedly happened to earth and we got one big moon and no ring. How does the ring stay a ring and not gravitize together?
  • by icepick72 (834363) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @12:34AM (#21109505)
    That shattered moon will just have to pick up the pieces and carry on like everyone else.
  • Clearly... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Siridar (85255)
    ...this is a result of (god/allah/the great bellybutton in the sky) playing billiards. He was aiming for the moon to get knocked into the corner pocket, but ended up putting a bit too much force into the shot. Oh well, his next shot should be golden, he's going to try and pocket the Earth into the sun. Ever wondered why the Mayan calendar counts down?
  • Only one force [nasa.gov] in the known universe is capable of unleashing such a devastating blast.
    • Only one force in the known universe is capable of unleashing such a devastating blast.
      Don't be too proud of this astronomical terror you've discovered.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @01:35AM (#21109847) Homepage Journal
    Can the Myth Busters test this by smashing an asteroid in orbit around Earth? I wanna ring too.
    • by Tuoqui (1091447)
      But where are Adam and Jamie gonna get a nuclear weapon that big? With the help of their friends at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission of course!
      • by steveoc (2661)
        Getting a Nuke would be tricky, but I hear that the Uni of NC as the most powerful antimatter ray gun - Ever.
    • Re:Myth Busters (Score:4, Informative)

      by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @07:36AM (#21111391) Journal
      Believe me, we're working on it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_junk [wikipedia.org]

      Thanks China for your latest contribution to the Greater Terra Ring Project!
    • Can the Myth Busters test this by smashing an asteroid in orbit around Earth? I wanna ring too.
      And we want an ice ring! [photobucket.com]

      Glad you could join us ;-)
      • by jc42 (318812)
        Some years ago, around 1980 if I remember right there was a paper published reporting evidence for a ring system around the Earth in the past. They were doing a study of past climates, analyzing fossils laid down at various sites. They reported a period of roughly a million years during which the fossil evidence at all the sites showed normal summers but the tropical sites showed very cool winters and extinction of plants that weren't cold tolerant. The most likely explanation for a world-side pattern li
  • Old News (Score:5, Funny)

    by commodoresloat (172735) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @01:35AM (#21109851)
    From TFA: "A narrow belt harboring moonlets as large as football stadiums discovered in Saturn's outermost ring probably resulted when a larger moon was shattered by a wayward asteroid or comet eons ago, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study."

    Typical slashdot; recycled news from millions of years ago This story is probably a dupe from then.
  • Come on, let's nuke our moon into a ring. A ring is way cooler than a moon.

    And the tides are overrated anyway, I guess.
    • some ecosystems might disagree with you...
    • NASA says that Saturn's rings are being pulled into the planet [nasa.gov]... and if a Lunar Ring isn't properly created, the same would happen here. ...small moons that orbit through the outermost regions of the ring system are gaining angular momentum at the expense of the rings. "During the next few hundred million years," explains Cuzzi, "the outer half of the rings will fall toward the planet, and the little moons -- called shepherd satellites -- will be flung away. This is a young dynamical system."

      Saturn's rings
  • So the folks at Boulder announced it, but did they really discover it? Cassini's a pretty sophisticated robot and did all of the observation and a lot of the discerning and differentiation work, so when do we start to give credit where credit is due? It's now generally accepted that Rosalind Franklin was one of the primary discoverers of DNA (Watson's petty and dismissive BS aside), so why is this so different? A robot discovered this (former) moon, not a human. Do we name it after Cassini?

    Just a thought.
    • And maybe it was Galileo's telescope that discovered Jupiter's moons.
      • by xeno (2667)
        If Galileo's telescope launched itself, went to Jupiter, circled the moons, took pictures, calculated anomalies (=decided what was mathematically interesting), and corrected its own course and adjusted its own eyepiece to take even more detailed pictures and then sent them back for another researcher to analyze, then yes.

        If you read http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/ [nasa.gov] it's notable that Cassini is a nuclear-powered robot that processes data "in situ" from remote and direct sensing equipment. It's not jus
        • by deroby (568773)
          So what you are saying is : it's thanks to the software that decides on what's news-worthy and what not, that we get to see these pretty pictures ?
          In that case, All Hail to the people who wrote that software !!
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Franklin's amazing work was instrumental in Watson and Crick discovery, and her work was amazing for the time, but she didn't not discovery DNA any more then a hammer frames houses.
  • Even as a young child gazing into the skies at night, and marvelling at the bright rainbow coloured rings boldly circling the planet Saturn, I always thought to myself 'You know, there is probably a moon in them that rings'
  • Time to bring in Bob the Builder, Bruce Willis, MacGuyver and a roll of tape.
  • Is this something new? Didn't Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the ring's origins in 1968's A Space Odyssee? Correct me if I am wrong.
  • Saturn's rings are composed largely of water ice with some impurities [solarviews.com]. Frozen ugly bags of mostly water [imdb.com].

    In 1952, Isaac Asimov wrote a story [wikipedia.org] called "The Martian Way", where colonists on Mars got sick of paying Earth to export water (and Earth politicians said the colonists were Wasters anyhow). The Martian Scavengers flew to Saturn, chose a large fragment of ice, reshaped it into a cylinder, embeded their ships in it, and flew it like a giant ship back to Mars. Using the fragment's ice as reaction mass, they
  • you know (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by nomadic (141991)
    That moon irritated me, so I taught it a lesson. Let that serve as a reminder to all of you of my power, and tread carefully in modding my posts down.
  • I know that the CU team wrote their press-release to make it sound like they're the first to discover propellers in the rings, but these were first found and identified as moonlets in a paper released a year and a half ago in Nature. The discovered was Matt Tiscareno at Cornell.

    What this new paper finds is some new propellers and that these moonlets might exist only within a belt in the rings.
  • I love finding out about stuff like this! Too cool! Imagine if we could have watched this. Smashed to bits and embedded like shards in the rings. Good thing those pieces never made it to us...or did they??? Hmmmm

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