Saturn's dynamic D ring

Matthew M. Hedman, Joseph A. Burns, Mark R. Showalter, Carolyn C. Porco, Philip D. Nicholson, Amanda S. Bosh, Matthew S. Tiscareno, Robert H. Brown, Bonnie J. Buratti, Kevin H. Baines, Roger Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Cassini spacecraft has provided the first clear images of the D ring since the Voyager missions. These observations show that the structure of the D ring has undergone significant changes over the last 25 years. The brightest of the three ringlets seen in the Voyager images (named D72), has transformed from a narrow, <40-km wide ringlet to a much broader and more diffuse 250-km wide feature. In addition, its center of light has shifted inwards by over 200 km relative to other features in the D ring. Cassini also finds that the locations of other narrow features in the D ring and the structure of the diffuse material in the D ring differ from those measured by Voyager. Furthermore, Cassini has detected additional ringlets and structures in the D ring that were not observed by Voyager. These include a sheet of material just interior to the inner edge of the C ring that is only observable at phase angles below about 60°. New photometric and spectroscopic data from the ISS (Imaging Science Subsystem) and VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) instruments onboard Cassini show the D ring contains a variety of different particle populations with typical particle sizes ranging from 1 to 100 microns. High-resolution images reveal fine-scale structures in the D ring that appear to be variable in time and/or longitude. Particularly interesting is a remarkably regular, periodic structure with a wavelength of ∼ 30   km extending between orbital radii of 73,200 and 74,000 km. A similar structure was previously observed in 1995 during the occultation of the star GSC5249-01240, at which time it had a wavelength of ∼ 60   km. We interpret this structure as a periodic vertical corrugation in the D ring produced by differential nodal regression of an initially inclined ring. We speculate that this structure may have formed in response to an impact with a comet or meteoroid in early 1984.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-107
Number of pages19
JournalIcarus
Volume188
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2007

Keywords

  • Planetary rings
  • Saturn
  • rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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