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

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Jupiter, the fifth planet in our solar system and by far the most massive, is a treasure trove of scientific discoveries. Last year, a pair of studies showed that the planet’s iconic Great Red Spot is 40 times deeper than the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on planet Earth. In April, the authors of an article in the journal Nature Communications studied a twin ridge in northwest Greenland with the same gravitational geometry as one of Jupiter’s moons Europa and concluded that life on Europa is more likely than expected.

Now scientists think they’ve solved another of Jupiter’s great mysteries, namely why it doesn’t have the spectacular rings that its celestial neighbor Saturn flaunts. It is believed to be a very massive gas giant with a similar composition, and the evolution of the two planets is similar, meaning that the reason one has a prominent ring system and the other does not has always been something of a mystery.

RELATED: Giant planet may have ‘escaped’ our solar system, study reveals

With the results currently available online and soon to be published in the journal Planetary Science, researchers at the University of California, Riverside used simulations to determine that Jupiter’s huge moons nip possible rings in the bud.

Using computer simulations that took into account the orbits of each of Jupiter’s four moons, astrophysicist Steven Kane and graduate student Zhekxing Lee realized that the gravity of these moons would alter the orbit of any ice that might form from the comet and ultimately prevent it from accumulating in such places. a way of forming rings, as happened with Saturn. Instead, the moons would either push the ice away from the planet’s orbit or pull the ice toward a collision course with themselves.

This not only explains why Jupiter currently has the smallest of rings; this suggests that he probably never had large rings.


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

“For us astronomers, it’s blood splatter on the walls of a crime scene. When we look at the rings of giant planets, this is evidence that something catastrophic happened, which led to the entry of this material, ”Kane explained.

Scientists say they have no plans to end their astronomical research on Jupiter; their next stop is Uranus, which also has pathetic rings. The researchers suggest that Uranus, which appears upside down, may be missing rings due to a collision with another celestial body.

Jupiter technically has a ring system, it’s just incredibly small and dim. Indeed, Jupiter’s rings are so small that scientists didn’t even discover them until 1979, when the Voyager space probe flew past the gas giant. There are three faint rings, all composed of dust particles emitted by nearby satellites: the main flattened ring, 20 miles thick and 4,000 miles wide, the donut-shaped inner ring, over 12,000 miles thick, and near the so-called “spider” ring, which is actually consists of three much smaller rings composed of microscopic fragments of nearby satellites.

NASA itself has expressed surprise at the thin rings that accompany our solar system’s most visible behemoth, in particular the size of the particles that make them up.

“These grains are so tiny that a thousand of them together are only a millimeter long,” NASA writes. “That makes them as small as cigarette smoke particles.”

On the contrary, the rings of Saturn are very beautiful, and some of the particles in these rings are “mountain-sized”. When the Cassini space probe finally took a closer look at Saturn’s rings, it found “spokes” longer than Earth’s diameter and potentially made of ice, as well as water jets from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which should have provided most of the material in the planet’s E ring.

Other Salon articles on astronomy:

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