Observations of Ejecta Clouds Produced by Impacts onto Saturn’s Rings

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Science  26 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6131, pp. 460-464
DOI: 10.1126/science.1233524

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Saturn's Meteoroid Crash

During Saturn's equinox in 2009, when the Sun illuminated its rings edge-on, images taken by the Cassini spacecraft showed dust clouds appearing as bright streaks above the rings. Similar streaks were detected in 2005 and 2012 when Cassini observed the C ring at close range. Tiscareno et al. (p. 460) suggest that the cause of each observed feature is likely to be the impact of a stream of recently disrupted material originating from a meteoroid impact onto the ring and derive the influx rate of meteoroids at Saturn.


We report observations of dusty clouds in Saturn’s rings, which we interpret as resulting from impacts onto the rings that occurred between 1 and 50 hours before the clouds were observed. The largest of these clouds was observed twice; its brightness and cant angle evolved in a manner consistent with this hypothesis. Several arguments suggest that these clouds cannot be due to the primary impact of one solid meteoroid onto the rings, but rather are due to the impact of a compact stream of Saturn-orbiting material derived from previous breakup of a meteoroid. The responsible interplanetary meteoroids were initially between 1 centimeter and several meters in size, and their influx rate is consistent with the sparse prior knowledge of smaller meteoroids in the outer solar system.

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