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Space Science

Saturn's A-ring Soaks Up Debris Ejected from Nearby Moon 64

Posted by Soulskill
from the yes-it-is-a-moon dept.
ScienceDaily is running a story about the recently discovered interaction between Saturn's A-ring and one of Saturn's small moons, Enceladus. Thanks to data from Cassini, scientists have discovered that ejected matter from Enceladus' ice geysers is absorbed into the A-ring, where it is then trapped. We discussed the geysers themselves a few years ago, and researchers have been working since then to determine where the material was going. Quoting: "This is the latest surprising phenomenon associated with the ice geysers of Enceladus to be discovered or confirmed by Cassini scientists. Earlier, the geysers were found to be responsible for the content of the E-ring. Next, the whole magnetic environment of Saturn was found to be weighed down by the material spewing from Enceladus, which becomes plasma -- a gas of electrically charged particles. Now, Cassini scientists confirm that the plasma, which creates a donut-shaped cloud around Saturn, is being snatched by Saturn's A-ring, which acts like a giant sponge where the plasma is absorbed."
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Saturn's A-ring Soaks Up Debris Ejected from Nearby Moon

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  • Cosmos reference: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by G4from128k (686170) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:28PM (#22457794)
    With all that plasma, the A-ring looks like great habitat for superconducting electrovores.
    • plasma -- a gas of electrically charged particles
      I'm no physiscist but I'm pretty sure it's a distinct phase..
  • by jettoblack (683831) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:47PM (#22457900)
    I often have the same problem with Enchiladas and my A-ring.
    • by Thecarpe (697076)
      Never not funny...I was expecting it, I read it, and giggled like an 8-year-old...who's serving up the Uranus joke?!
  • by mrxak (727974) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:51PM (#22457928)
    I know one of the theories for moon formation is debris in orbit of a planet slowly forming into larger bodies until eventually there's a new moon. Could this be a case where one moon is "leaking", and the eventual result will be a new moon formed out of Saturn's rings?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      I don't think that can happen with Saturn's gravity tearing things up and putting things in orbit until they can form a larger body?

      And if it could, I'd think it should have happened many million years ago already?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mrxak (727974)
        No doubt new comets or other objects are going by and getting ripped apart all the time to add to Saturn's rings, but Saturn has a lot of moons already, so clearly Saturn is getting moons somehow.
        • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:20PM (#22458084) Homepage
          To put it more exactly, tidal forces will tear apart anything within, roughly, the A ring. (Cavaets: this applies to bodies with no internal cohesion and cases where there's a large size differential move the limit inward, a la Porco et al. 2006.)
          • by mrxak (727974)
            Okay, that makes sense. Still, enough stuff gets built up in the rings, broken apart or otherwise, and collisions will probably be more frequent. Where there's collisions, there could be things breaking out to a higher orbit where such moons could actually coalesce.
          • by StikyPad (445176)
            tidal forces will tear apart anything within, roughly, the A ring.

            So you're saying that putting something inside the A ring would likely a hole tear?
        • by Jugalator (259273)

          but Saturn has a lot of moons already, so clearly Saturn is getting moons somehow.
          Yeah, by capturing objects, like most other planets are theorized to have done.
          • Saturn's outer, irregular moons are likely captured. However, the only medium or large moon in the solar system that I know of which is thought to be captured is Neptune's Triton. Most medium to large moons are believed to have formed in situ, as well as a fair number of the smaller guys. The fact that most of the inner and/or large moons have co-planar, low-eccentricity orbits is very suggestive of co-formation. This includes Saturn's moons nearest the rings.
    • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:22PM (#22458114) Homepage
      Tides are a big problem for forming a moon within, roughly, the A ring. A bigger problem is that Enceladus produces "dust" (very small particles, the size of particles in cigarette smoke, approximately), albeit made mostly of ice. It takes a long time to form this stuff into macroscopic bodies when the conditions are friendly (which they aren't). Worse still, Enceladus isn't really putting out that much mass per time. It'd take a very long time to put out enough to make another decent-sized moon, even at 100% efficiency.
    • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:26PM (#22458140)
      The debris being generated cannot form into a new moon, as the A-ring is within the Roche radius [wikipedia.org] of Saturn.
      • by Speare (84249) on Monday February 18, 2008 @09:48AM (#22462890) Homepage Journal

        IANAAP, and I'm not disagreeing with the basic point of what you are saying, but...

        from the link you provided, the radius of the Roche limit (1) depends on the structural integrity of the satellite, not just a constant radius from the stronger body, and thus (2) does not apply at all to the pulverized bits of the weaker body.

        The Saturn A ring therefore decorates a particular Roche limit that applied to some other body that was pulverized in the past, and not a guaranteed "point of no moons" around Saturn. If the Roche limit were not based on the structural integrity of the moon, then even the broken boulders of an ex-moon would be further pulverized into rocks, then sand, and finally nano-dust. If a boulder survives inside the original body's Roche limit, it must be because it has a new Roche limit that is closer to Saturn.

        While I admit that the pulverized bits are unlikely to coalesce into a moon, I wouldn't say they're impossible. If something were to cause a strong self-attractive force, say, some ionizing comet or who knows, the FSM's noodly appendages, a moon that developed into a highly rigid structure could continue to survive there. If we someday mine asteroids in the region, structural integrity of manmade or man-inhabited objects will obviously be of prime importance.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by CheshireCatCO (185193)
          The Roche limit, as usually defined, is for a body with *no* internal strength. This is a very reasonable limit to use as anything trying to accrete from small particles would not have internal strength (between these particles) immediately. It's difficult to invoke any kind of strong enough force to overcome the tidal stretching: electrostatic charges, for example, are too small to work on macroscopic bodies --- large charges don't persist for long as they attract opposite charges quickly and cancel out.
    • by techno-vampire (666512) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @10:20PM (#22458414) Homepage
      No. With the exception of the E ring, all of Saturn's rings are within its Roche Limit. [wikipedia.org] Tidal forces would prevent a new moon from forming that close just as they'd break up an existing one.
      • Actually, the G ring is exterior to the E ring. The F ring's status is questionable in this respect (it depends on your assumptions). Even the outer A ring might be outside the Roche limit, depending on what physics you think is occurring.

        Also, existing satellites don't break up inside to the Roche limit. Pan and Daphnis are most likely within this limit, yet persist. Atlas, Prometheus, Pandora, and maybe even Janus and Epimetheus are potentially inside the Roche limit, depending on your choice of assum
        • OTOH, the breakup isn't exactly instant; it takes time. Who knows how long those moons have been that close or how close they might (or might not, of course) be to breaking up?
          • How long do you think it takes? Tidal breakup ought to occur on a timescale of orbits, meaning a few days. These bodies have persisted for at least decades and there is evidence that they formed with the rings which are at millions, if not billions, of years old. It sounds like you're grasping at straws to support an invalid claim. There are moons inside the Roche limit because they *can* exist there thanks to internal strength (a factor neglected in the Roche calculations). It's just *forming* moons th
            • How long do you think it takes? Tidal breakup ought to occur on a timescale of orbits, meaning a few days


              I don't know, I'm not a physicist. I'd expect it to depend on a number of factors, such as tensile strength, size of the body, size of the primary and how far inside the limit it is. Of course, as a layman ICBW. That's why I made sure to point out that they might or might not break up.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "the whole magnetic environment of Saturn was found to be weighed down by the material spewing from Enceladus, which becomes plasma -- a gas of electrically charged particles. Now, Cassini scientists confirm that the plasma, which creates a donut-shaped cloud around Saturn, is being snatched by Saturn's A-ring"

    Yeah, that used to happen to me back when I listened to cassettes, too. A decent degausser will fix it.
  • Hey! (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Digitus1337 (671442)
    That's no moon!
  • Most suggestive headline I've read all day.
  • Is This New? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:32PM (#22458162) Homepage
    I'm not sure that this is really news. I can vaguely recall people talking about exactly this sort of thing happening in papers from years ago. I'm not 100% certain that the topic was E ring particles, but I rather thing that it is. Sure, before we found the plume on Enceladus, that moon's connection wasn't apparent, but the issue of contamination of the A ring has come up before. I even remember discussion as to how far into the A ring you'd have to go before the contamination stopped. (Which probably played back into older photometric and spectroscopic measurements of the outer A ring, which has a a rather distinct character.)

    It's a bit difficult to tell from the article what the point of the new research is, but I will say that even confirming this with new, perhaps more telling, measurements is still useful result, even if I'm remembering correctly and this isn't a new idea.
  • Betcha they got no CO2 [slashdot.org] up there.
  • between the hydrocarbons, the ice to produce hydrogen and now the plasma its really starting to sound like the place to open a cosmic truck stop is Saturn, its got like tonnes of energy sources waiting to be used.
    • Yea, but can I get really strong coffee for late night orbiting, and maybe a couple of those "plasma flaps" for my orbiter - you know, the ones with the naked lady sillouettes?
  • What about the O-ring?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dunbal (464142)
      it will need to be replaced in a few years.
    • by KlaymenDK (713149)
      Yeah, when I read the headline I thought great, finally some space junk that's actually cleaning up up there ... then of course I read the next sentence.
  • The Saturnians' plan to inject Coke and Mentos into Enceladus was a brilliant move to produce rings and revive their once-sagging tourism trade.

    Seriously, I wonder how such a relatively small moon like Enceladus can have such strong tidal heating. It just seems too puny for that kind of thing.
         
  • by cslax (1215816)
    I, for one, welcome our new debris absorbing overlords.
  • ice geysers? (Score:3, Informative)

    by NotZed (19455) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:30AM (#22459428)
    Do they really look like geysers to anybody? Wouldn't they be more columnar, or conical?

    If anything it looks like the solar corona, or a comet perhaps?

    ahh, here we go ... 2 years ago, same story - with a cometary conclusion:

    http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.php?file=article&name=News&op=modload&sid=1797 [astrobio.net]

    • Except that even in the very quote where Torrence makes the comet analogy, *he* calls them geysers and then proceeds to point out why this very much is not a comet.

      I don't often hear "geyser" used for Enceladus, by the way. (I think it was tossed around early after the discovery, and then shot down for technical reasons.) "Plume" refers to the whole eruption and "jet" to the individual sources that merge to form the plume. That's certain the nomenclature used in the imaging team and, from what I've heard
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by susano_otter (123650)

      Do they really look like geysers to anybody? Wouldn't they be more columnar, or conical?

      What is it about a columnar or conical jet that makes them not geysers?
  • Isn't the A-ring what surrounds the A-hole?
  • near the end of January.

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