NASA has recently released another set of data coming from Cassini’s observations. The information is more than interesting, as it reveals a new purpose of the moons which surround Saturn. It seems that these natural satellites don’t just orbit around the planet, but also work together to hold the outermost visible ring, called the A ring.
Saturn’s A ring is kept in place by an unusual cooperation
The A ring is the largest of the visible rings, and stands the furthest from Saturn. However, it accumulates to much material that, without an external support to keep it in place, the ring would start shattering and, gradually, disappear.
Researchers were aware the A ring needed a support. However, for about thirty years, they thought this role only belonged to Janus. However, Cassini kept a close observation on the other moons, and revealed new information about them.
Researchers were impressed by the beauty of this discovery
Apart from studying each moon’s surface and physical properties, researchers analyzed their collective action, and their interaction with Saturn’s rings. After some mathematical approximations, the final result was that Janus couldn’t have enough force to hold the entire A ring. Therefore, several other moons joined it in this attempt, namely Pandora, Pan, Prometheus, Epimetheus, Atlas, and Mimas.
The gravitational force of the moon is the one which keeps the A ring in place. They act on its rotation speed and slow it down, and also pull down momentum from it. This way, it cannot ‘split’ all over the solar system.
Researchers are extremely happy they have found out such valuable information, and said this was exactly what they were hoping to get from the Cassini mission. They still cannot tell what process formed the rings, but at least they know what keeps them into place. This process is still new and unique, but also beautiful, as all moons work together to maintain the well-functioning of the Saturn rings.
Image Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory