New images from the Cassini spacecraft reveal rogue kilometre-sized objects punching through Saturn’s F-ring as the source of ‘mini-jets’ seen emanating from the ring.
Saturn’s narrow F-ring is already known to host a variety of dynamic features including channels, ripples and ‘snowballs’ that are created by the gravitational influence of nearby moon Prometheus. While some snowballs are likely broken up by collisions and tidal forces, the new images reveal five hundred separate cases where small surviving fragments punch through the F-ring, dragging icy ring particles with them.
The objects collide with the ring at low speeds of around two metres per second, resulting in ‘mini-jets’ that extend between 40 and 180 kilometres from the ring. In some cases the snowball impacts occur in groups, creating exotic patterns as they drag through the ring.
The new results were presented today on 24 April 2012 the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria.