Saturn's Curiously Corrugated C Ring

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Science  31 Mar 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1202238


In August 2009, the Sun illuminated Saturn’s rings from almost exactly edge-on, revealing a subtle corrugation that extends across the entire C ring. This corrugation's amplitude is 2 to 20 m and its wavelength is 30 to 80 km. Radial trends in the corrugation’s wavelength indicate that this structure—like a similar corrugation previously identified in the D ring—results from differential nodal regression within a ring that became relative to Saturn’s equator plane in 1983. We suggest that this initial tilt arose because interplanetary debris struck the rings. The corrugation’s radial extent implies that the impacting material was a dispersed cloud of debris instead of a single object, and the corrugation’s amplitude indicates that the debris’ total mass was ~1011 to 1013 kg.