Origin of Saturn's E Ring: Self-Sustained, Naturally

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Science  22 Apr 1994:
Vol. 264, Issue 5158, pp. 550-553
DOI: 10.1126/science.264.5158.550


Saturn's diffuse E ring spans the region between 3 and 8 saturnian radii (Rs), has its peak brightness near the orbit of the satellite Enceladus (3.95 Rs), and is thought to be composed primarily of icy particles 1.0 ± 0.3 micrometers in radius. Such particles are shown to move periodically along highly elliptical paths that cross the orbits of several saturnian satellites; the resulting energetic collisions of E ring particles with embedded satellites are capable of sustaining the E ring at its current optical depth. With several reasonable assumptions, this model naturally selects Enceladus as the primary source of ring material and may also provide mechanisms that explain the generation of the unusual amount of submicrometer dust in the neighboring F and G rings, the excess of OH molecules observed within the E ring, and the orbital brightness variations of nearby satellites.