Eccentric Ringlet in the Maxwell Gap at 1.45 Saturn Radii: Multi-Instrument Voyager Observations

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Science  07 Oct 1983:
Vol. 222, Issue 4619, pp. 57-60
DOI: 10.1126/science.222.4619.57


The Voyager spacecraft observed a narrow, eccentric ringlet in the Maxwell gap (1.45 Saturn radii) in Saturn's rings. Intercomparison of the Voyager imaging, photopolarimeter, ultraviolet spectrometer, and radio science observations yields results not available from individual observations. The width of the ringlet varies from about 30 to about 100 kilometers, its edges are sharp on a radial scale < 1 kilometer, and its opacity exhibits a double peak near the center. The shape and width of the ringlet are consistent with a set of uniformly precessing, confocal ellipses with foci at Saturn's center of mass. The ringlet precesses as a unit at a rate consistent with the known dynamical oblateness of Saturn; the lack of differential precession across the ringlet yields a ringlet mass of about 5 x 1018 grams. The ratio of surface mass density to particle cross-sectional area is about five times smaller than values obtained elsewhere in the Saturn ring system, indicating a relatively larger fraction of small particles. Also, comparison of the measured transmission of the ringlet at radio, visible, and ultraviolet wavelengths indicates that about half of the total extinction is due to particles smaller than 1 centimeter in radius, in contrast even with nearby regions of the C ring. However, the color and brightness of the ringlet material are not measurably different from those of nearby C ring particles. We find this ringlet is similar to several of the rings of Uranus.