DDA2001, April2001
Session 1. Very Small Things
Monday, 8:40-10:10am, (Coffee Break 10:10-10:30am), 10:30am-12:00noon

[Previous] | [Session 1] | [Next]

[1.01] Planetary Rings

P. D. Nicholson (Cornell)

A revolution in the studies in planetary rings studies occurred in the period 1977--1981, with the serendipitous discovery of the narrow, dark rings of Uranus, the first Voyager images of the tenuous jovian ring system, and the many spectacular images returned during the twin Voyager flybys of Saturn. In subsequent years, ground-based stellar occultations, HST observations, and the Voyager flybys of Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989), as well as a handful of Galileo images, provided much additional information. Along with the completely unsuspected wealth of detail these observations revealed came an unwelcome problem: are the rings ancient or are we privileged to live at a special time in history? The answer to this still-vexing question may lie in the complex gravitational interactions recent studies have revealed between the rings and their retinues of attendant satellites. Among the four known ring systems, we see elegant examples of Lindblad and corotation resonances (first invoked in the context of galactic disks), electromagnetic resonances, spiral density waves and bending waves, narrow ringlets which exhibit internal modes due to collective instabilities, sharp-edged gaps maintained via tidal torques from embedded moonlets, and tenuous dust belts created by meteoroid impact onto parent bodies. Perhaps most puzzling is Saturn's multi-stranded, clumpy F ring, which continues to defy a simple explanation 20 years after it was first glimpsed in grainy images taken by Pioneer 11. Voyager and HST images reveal a complex, probably chaotic, dynamical interaction between unseen parent bodies within this ring and its two shepherd satellites, Pandora and Prometheus.

The work described here reflects contributions by Joe Burns, Jeff Cuzzi, Luke Dones, Dick French, Peter Goldreich, Colleen McGhee, Carolyn Porco, Mark Showalter, and Bruno Sicardy, as well as those of the author. This research has been supported by NASA's Planetary Geology and Geophysics program and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

[Previous] | [Session 1] | [Next]