Eurekalert.org, a peer-reviewed publication owned by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has published UCR astrophysicist Stephen Kane’s research that answers why Jupiter’s rings are not like other ringed planets. The core points of the publication are shared below.
Why don’t giant planets necessarily have extensive ring systems?
Jupiter is bigger than Saturn, so logically one scientist questions why its rings aren’t bigger and more beautiful than Saturn’s or Uranus’s rings. The concise answer to why this isn’t so is that Jupiter’s huge moons stop big icy rings from forming around it.
Stephen Kane’s new research from UC Riverside shows that Jupiter’s big moons block that view from making the night sky bright.
Kane has always wondered why Jupiter doesn’t have even more amazing rings than Saturn.
Kane ponders that if Jupiter had them, we’d see them even brighter than they do on Saturn because it is so much closer to us.
Kane also wondered if Jupiter used to have beautiful rings but lost them. Some ring structures are only there for a short time.
Kane and his graduate student Zhexing Li ran a dynamic computer simulation that took into account the orbits of Jupiter’s four main moons, the planet’s own orbit, and how long it takes for rings to form. This helped them figure out why Jupiter looks the way it does now.
Saturn’s rings are made from comet ice
Most of Saturn’s rings are made of ice, which may have come from comets, which are also mostly made of ice. According to Wikipedia, Saturn’s rings are the most extensive of any planet’s ring system in the Solar System. They are made up of numerous tiny particles that range in size from micrometers to meters and circle Saturn. The ring particles are almost entirely comprised of water ice, with a trace of stony debris. There is currently no agreement on their mechanism of formation.
Jupiter’s Galilean moons would destroy ice rings very quickly
If moons are big enough, their gravity can push ice out of a planet’s orbit or change the orbit of the ice so that it crashes into the moons.
The computer simulation showed that Jupiter’s Galilean moons, one of which is Ganymede, the biggest moon in our solar system, would quickly destroy any big rings. This simulation indicates that it is unlikely that Jupiter ever had large rings.
According to Kane, major planets have major moons, which means they can’t have major rings.
Although Jupiter doesn’t have major rings, the JWST can observe faint rings
Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and Jupiter, the four biggest planets in our solar system, all have rings. But both Neptune and Jupiter have rings that are so thin that they are hard to see with regular telescopes.
The new James Webb Space Telescope was able to take pictures showing faint rings of Jupiter. Astronomers didn’t know about these temporary rings until the Voyager spacecraft went by. We couldn’t see them without Voyager or the James Webb Space Telescope.
More about Uranus
Uranus has rings that aren’t as big as Saturn’s but are more solid. Kane plans to run simulations of the conditions on Uranus to find out how long the rings on that planet might last.
Some astronomers think that Uranus is on its side because it hit another celestial body and flipped over. Its rings could be evidence of that collision.
What is the significance of rings around planets?
Rings are beautiful, but they also help astronomers learn about the history of a planet because they show where moons or comets may have hit it in the past. The size and shape of the rings and the type of material they are made of can be used to figure out what kind of event made them.
Rings indicate to astronomers what past disasters may have happened to planets. This is why astronomers study them and learn about them. If you are interested in learning more about planetary rings, more results from this research are online from arXiv.org and will soon be published in the Planetary Science journal.