Saturn Ring Riddle Finally Solved

Why do Saturn’s rings look like that?

New research from the University of Leicester finally confirms why the planet’s iconic rings look the way they do — and the answer might allow us to make predictions about other planetary rings in the universe.

Saturn’s rings are made of chunks of ice and rock that range in size from a few inches wide, to 10-feet long. It has long been a mystery as to whether this size distribution occurred for just Saturn’s rings, or other planetary rings, such as those surrounding Uranus or Neptune.

“Our study revealed that this form of the size distribution is not occasional, but dictated by simple mechanisms of aggregation and fragmentation of particles at their collisions,” Dr. Nikolai Brilliantov, a math professor at the university and the study’s lead investigator, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Furthermore, we proved mathematically that the form of the size distribution is universal, that is, it is not specific for planetary rings of Saturn.”

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For the study, the researchers measured how the sizing of the particles follow the so-called math law “of inverse cubes.”

“That is, the abundance of two meter-size particles is eight times smaller than the abundance of one meter-sized particles, the abundance of three meter-size particles is 27 times smaller and so on,” Brilliantov said in a written statement.

Got that?

The pattern ends at about 10 meters in size, which means that particles larger in size are very unlikely to be in Saturn’s rings, according to Brilliantov.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 4, 2015.

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