Saturn May Have Got Their Rings Due to the Death of Moon Chrysalis

Saturn
Courtesy of saxettom (Flickr CC0)

Scientists utilizing data from NASA’s computer simulations and Cassini spacecraft and computer simulations stated on Thursday the annihilation of a large moon that strayed too near Saturn would both be responsible for the birth of the gas giant planet’s spectacular rings and its uncommon orbital tilt of around 27 degrees.

The Scientist gave a name to the moon, that name being Chrysalis. They said that it possibly was ripped apart by tidal forces from Saturn’s gravitational pull around 160 million years ago, a relatively recent contrast to the date of the planet’s formation more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Around 99% of Chrysalis’ wreck seems to have landed in Saturn’s atmosphere while the last 1% stayed in orbit around the planet and in the end formed the large ring system that is one of the questions of our solar system, the scientists said. They picked the name Chrysalis for the moon since it refers to a butterfly’s pupal stage prior to it turning into its glorious adult form.

Saturn
Courtesy of osde8info (Flickr CC0)

“As a butterfly comes out from a chrysalis, the rings of Saturn emerged from the very early satellite Chrysalis,” Jack Wisdom said, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Scientist guessed that Chrysalis was roughly the size approximate Iapetus, Saturn’s third-largest moon that has a diameter of about 910 miles.

Everyone believed “it was mainly made up of water ice,” said planetary scientist and study co-author Burkhard Militzer of the University of California, Berkeley.

Saturn’s rings are mainly made up of water ice going from smaller than a grain of sand all the way up to the size of a mountain, extending up to 175,000 miles from the planet but normally are only around 30 feet thick. While the solar system’s other large gas planets including Jupiter also have rings, they are smaller compared to Saturn’s, the sixth planet from the sun.

Located about 10 times as far as the sun as Earth, Saturn is the second biggest planet in the solar system, it has a volume that is 750 times greater than Earth, it is mainly made up of helium and hydrogen, and it is orbited by around 83 moons including Titan, the solar system’s second biggest moon — bigger than the planet Mercury.

Cassini orbited Saturn over 290 times from 2004 to 2017 which collected essential data including measurements of gravity that were key to the study, before the Cassini made a death dive into the planet.

A study that was published in 2019 gave evidence that the rings were a pretty recent inclusion, and the research went more into detail on those discoveries. In the new study, scientists proposed a multi-step plan to try and go into detail on the formation of Saturn’s rings.

The Saturn system formed with Chrysalis amid all of the other moons present, they stated. In the beginning, the planet’s spin axis was perpendicular to its orbital plane circling the sun but the gravitational effects of Neptune on the Saturn system tilted Saturn’s spin axis.

The realness came about when Titian’s orbit around Saturn started to drift outward, a process that is still happening, weakening the orbit of Chrysalis, they said. Titan’s outward migration seems to be relatively fast, at about 4 inches per year, which doesn’t sound like much but over time it starts to amount to a lot, specifically for such a large moon.

The orbit of Chrysalis got worse and the moon went more close to Saturn that it disintegrated, the researchers said.

“Saturn’s gravitational force tore it apart in the same way that Jupiter ripped apart the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet,” Militzer said, talking about a comet that ultimately plummeted into Jupiter in 1994.

“With Chrysalis gone, Neptune can not affect Saturn’s spin axis. The planet continued to spin at an angle of 27 degrees,” Militzer added. To compare, Earth’s tilt is around 23 degrees.

Written By Lance Santoyo

Sources:

KSL: Violent death of moon Chrysalis may have spawned Saturn’s rings

ScienceNews: Saturn’s rings and tilt might have come from one missing moon

CNN: A long-lost moon explains the origin of Saturn’s signature rings

Featured Image Courtesy of saxettom Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of osde8info Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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