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Why does Saturn have rings and Jupiter doesn’t? A computer model may have figured it out


Jupiter, the fifth planet in our solar system and the largest, is a treasure trove of scientific discoveries. Last year a pair of studies found that the planet’s iconic Great Red Spot is 40 times deeper than the Mariana Trench, the deepest location on Planet Earth. In April the authors of a paper in the journal Nature Communications studied a double ridge in Northwest Greenland with the same gravity-scaled geometry as found on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and concluded that the probability in European life is greater than expected.

Now scientists believe they have solved another great mystery about Jupiter – namely, why it lacks the spectacular rings displayed by its celestial neighbor, Saturn. As a very large gas giant with the same composition, the evolution of the two planets is believed to be the same – meaning that the reason why one has a prominent ring system and the other does not is always a puzzle.

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With results currently online and soon to be published in the journal Planetary Science, researchers from the University of California–Riverside used modeling to determine that Jupiter’s large moons cut off the formation of possible rings. immediately.

Using computer simulations that accounted for the orbits of each of Jupiter’s four moons, astrophysicist Stephen Kane and graduate student Zhexing Li realized that the moons’ gravity would change the orbit of any ice. which may come from a comet and ultimately prevent their accumulation in the object. a way to form rings, as happened on Saturn. Instead, the moons throw the ice away from the planet’s orbit or pull the ice onto a collision course themselves.

This not only explains why only Jupiter has the smallest rings so far; this suggests that it probably does not have large rings.


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There is more at stake here than simply understanding why the aesthetics of Jupiter differ from the aesthetics of Saturn. As Kane explained in a statement, the planet’s rings hold many clues about the planet’s history. They can help scientists understand what objects may have collided with a planet in the past, or perhaps the type of event that formed them.

“For us astronomers, they are the blood running down the walls of a crime scene. When we look at the rings of the giant planets, it is evidence that a catastrophe has occurred that put that material out there,” Kane explained.

Scientists say they don’t plan to end their astronomical investigation of Jupiter; Their next stop is Uranus, which also has smaller rings. Researchers speculate that Uranus, which appears to be tipping on its side, may be missing rings due to a collision with another celestial body.

Technically, Jupiter has a ring system, it is very small and fragile. In fact, Jupiter’s rings are so small that scientists didn’t even discover them until 1979, when the space probe Voyager passed through the gas giant. There are three faint rings, all of them made of dust particles ejected from nearby moons – a primarily flattened ring 20 miles thick and 4,000 miles wide, a inner ring shaped like a donut over 12,000 miles thick and more. -so-called “gossamer” ring that is actually made up of three smaller rings made up of microscopic debris from nearby moons.

NASA itself has expressed surprise at the small rings that accompany the most visible behemoth of our solar system – in particular, at the size of the particles that make it up.

“These grains are so small, a thousand of them together are only one millimeter long,” NASA wrote. “This makes them as small as cigarette smoke particles.”

In contrast, Saturn’s rings are famously beautiful, and some of the particles in the rings are “as big as mountains.” When the space probe Cassini finally got an up-close look at Saturn’s rings, it found “spokes” taller than Earth’s diameter and possibly made of ice — as well as the water jets from the Saturnian moon Enceladus, which will deliver a large portion of material to the planet’s E ring.

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