California, July 21
Jupiter should have more impressive and bigger rings than Saturn because it is bigger. However, according to a recent UC Riverside study, Jupiter’s huge moons prevent this vision from lighting up the night sky.
The research results were published in the journal “Planetary Science”.
“It bothered me for a long time that Jupiter didn’t have even more amazing rings that would put Saturn to shame,” said UCR astrophysicist Stephen Kane, who led the research.
“If Jupiter had them, they would appear even brighter to us, because the planet is so much closer than Saturn.” Kane also wondered if Jupiter once had fantastic rings and lost them. It is possible that ring structures are temporary.
To understand why Jupiter currently looks like this, Kane and his graduate student Zhexing Li ran a dynamic computer simulation depicting the orbits of Jupiter’s four main moons, as well as the orbit of the planet itself, and information on what time it takes for the rings to form. Their results are now online and will soon be published in the journal Planetary Science.
Saturn’s rings are largely made of ice, some of which may have come from comets, which are also largely made of ice. If the moons are massive enough, their gravity can throw the ice out of a planet’s orbit or shift the ice’s orbit enough for it to collide with the moons.
“We found that the Galilean moons of Jupiter, one of which is the largest moon in our solar system, would very quickly destroy any large rings that might form,” Kane said. As a result, Jupiter is unlikely to have had large rings at any time in its past.
“Massive planets form massive moons, which prevents them from having substantial rings,” Kane said.
All four giant planets in our solar system – Saturn, Neptune, Uranus and also Jupiter – actually have rings. However, the rings of Neptune and Jupiter are so fragile that they are difficult to see with traditional stargazing instruments.
Coincidentally, some of the recent images from the recently commissioned James Webb Space Telescope included images of Jupiter, in which the faint rings are visible.
“We didn’t know these fleeting rings existed until the Voyager spacecraft passed, because we couldn’t see them,” Kane said.
Uranus has rings that are not as large but more substantial than those of Saturn. In the future, Kane plans to run simulations of conditions on Uranus to see what the lifespan of that planet’s rings might be.
Some astronomers believe Uranus flipped on its side following a collision the planet had with another celestial body. His rings could be the remnants of that impact.
Beyond their beauty, the rings help astronomers understand a planet’s history as they offer evidence of collisions with moons or comets that may have occurred in the past. The shape and size of the rings, as well as the composition of the material, offer an indication of the type of event that formed them.
“For us astronomers, it’s the blood splatter on the walls of a crime scene. When we look at the rings of giant planets, it proves that something catastrophic happened to put this material there,” said said Kane. ANI