A new paper has been published in MNRAS (Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society) by Dr Phil Sutton titled “On the tidal environment of an outwardly migrating F ring“.
The paper used computer models of Saturn’s unique narrow ring, the F ring, to investigate interactions with nearby moon Prometheus. Below is an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Prometheus as it creates structures (streamer-channels) in the F ring by gravitational perturbations.
Planetary rings, like Saturn’s, are know to be astronomically short lived. In time the rings accrete into moons and disappear. Since the F ring liess at the edge of the main rings and close the Roche limit (the distance at which an object can exist to a planet before gravitational tides completely pull it apart) it is important for the formation of moons. Planetary rings are also known to spread outwards. If the F ring does migrate outwards the gravitational tides from Saturn reduce which can have impact on Prometheus induced density fluctuations, which were proved to drive the formation of smaller moonlets. Computer models looked at the structures formed by Prometheus as the F ring is moed outwards into lower tidal environments.
It was discovered that the F ring became more favourable to forming clumps and moonlets as it moved outwards. Prometheus also had a more significant effect on the ring and structures (streamer-channels) increased in size.