PerspectivePlanetary Science

Saturn's Strangest Ring Becomes Curiouser and Curiouser

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Science  25 Nov 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5752, pp. 1287-1288
DOI: 10.1126/science.1121223

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Saturn's rings have long been a source of fascination. Interest in them increased in the 1980s when Voyager sent back detailed images of the ring structures showing intricate kinks and braids. In his Perspective, Showalter discusses results from the Cassini spacecraft reported by Charnoz et al. in the same issue that reveal the existence of spiral features in the F ring, a narrow strand just outside the main rings. One possible mechanism for the formation of spiral rings centers on an object called S/2004 S6, possibly a small moon or a clump of dust. This object may have interacted with the ring particles, causing them to scatter into a spiral pattern about the ring. Another possible scenario suggested by Showalter is that S/2004 S6 is the consequence of a large unusual impact event. Continued monitoring of Saturn by Cassini should help decide among the possible mechanisms.