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Name: Murray G Behl and Mark Justiss
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Question:
Why does Saturn have its rings in a disk as opposed to a random arrangement around the planet? Also why does the disc have rings or ringlets as opposed to a continuous uniform disc? Are these rings traveling at different speed and are they all traveling in the same direction?



Replies:
The reason for the disk is probably because most of Saturn's other satel- lites orbit in roughly the same plane - this is common in satellite systems - for example all the planets orbit the Sun in roughly the same plane, so if you traced them out they would form rings in a disk too. The rings are actually made up of billions of small particles (chunks of ice mostly) that are orbiting the planet. The reason there are all these small particles (forming an almost continuous disk) is that when you get too close to a big planet, tidal forces cause a satellite to break up into tiny pieces. So these rings probably represent the destruction of some old bigger moons (or perhaps they are just left over from the original formation of Saturn). The reason for the rings or ringlets seems to be because the orbits of these chunks of ice are affected by some so-called "shepherd" moons that are still in one piece orbiting in the ring region. This was a big question a few years ago when the first Voyager pictures came back - maybe somebody who knows more can tell us the latest story on this? The rings are indeed all traveling in the same direction - otherwise you would get some rather nasty collisions eliminating things going the wrong way. They orbit at different speeds, though, because the farther out they are away from the planet the slower they need to go to stay in orbit.

A Smith


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