Prometheus creating Saturn ring streamers
What’s causing those strange dark streaks in the rings of Saturn? Prometheus. Specifically, an orbital dance involving Saturn’s moon Prometheus keeps creating unusual light and dark streamers in the F-Ring of Saturn. Now Prometheus orbits Saturn just inside the thin F-ring, but ventures into its inner edge about every 15 hours. Prometheus’ gravity then pulls the closest ring particles toward the 100-km moon. The result is not only a stream of bright ring particles but also a dark ribbon where ring particles used to be. Since Prometheus orbits faster than the ring particles, the icy moon pulls out a new streamer every pass. Sometimes, several streamers or kinks are visible at once.
Image credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA
The Cassini spacecraft takes an angled view toward Saturn, showing the southern reaches of the planet with the rings on a dramatic diagonal. North on Saturn is up and rotated 16 degrees to the left. This view looks toward the southern, unilluminated side of the rings from about 14 degrees below the ringplane. The rings cast wide shadows on the planet’s southern hemisphere. The moon Enceladus (313 miles, or 504 kilometers across) appears as a small, bright speck in the lower left of the image.
Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A body of mystery
Titan (or Saturn VI) is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.
2004: Launched in 1997, Cassini-Huygens eneters the orbit of Saturn in 2004 returning stunning images of the planet, its rings and its satellites.
Saturn is sometimes called the ”Jewel of the Solar System” because its ring system looks like a crown. The rings are well known, but often the question ”what are Saturn’s rings made of” arises. Those rings are made up of dust, rock, and ice accumulated from passing comets, meteorite impacts on Saturn’s moons, and the planet’s gravity pulling material from the moons. Some of the material in the ring system are as small as grains of sand, others are larger than tall buildings, while a few are up to a kilometer across.
Below is a list of the main rings and gaps between them along with distances from the center of the planet and their widths.