Saturn Ring Particles as Dynamic Ephemeral Bodies

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Science  18 May 1984:
Vol. 224, Issue 4650, pp. 744-747
DOI: 10.1126/science.224.4650.744


Although Saturn's rings are within the Roche zone, the accretion of centimeter-sized particles into large aggregates many meters in diameter occurs readily, on a time scale of weeks. These aggregates are disrupted when tidal stresses exceed their very low strengths; thus most of the mass of the ring system is continually processed through a population of large "dynamic ephemeral bodies," which are continually forming and disintegrating. These large aggregates are not at all like the idealized ice spheres often used in modeling Saturn's ring dynamics. Their coefficient of restitution is low, hence they form a monolayer in the ring plane. The optically observable characteristics of the rings are dominated by the swarm of centimeter-sized particles.