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Saturn’s Fast-Changing Ring Confuses Scientists

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One of Saturn’s rings is changing at a fast pace and scientists are completely baffled when it comes to explaining why this is happening.

Robert French, of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California said that the ring looks completely different today than it did a few decades ago.

“Saturn’s F ring looks fundamentally different from the time of Voyager to the Cassini era. It makes for an irresistible mystery for us to investigate.”

French and his team have a hypothesis about these changes and it is tied to the number of Saturn “moonlets” found near the F ring over the decades.

The researchers think that these moonlets create the bright clumps and since there is a drop in the bright clumps, the number of tiny satellites must have decreased.

But why would the moonlets be more common in the Voyager era than in the time of Cassini? Apparently, it may have something to do with periodic alignments of Saturn’s 84-mile-long moon Prometheus and the F ring.

“Material at this distance from Saturn can’t decide whether it wants to remain as a ring or coalesce to form a moon.”

Prometheus’ role is especially strong once every 17 years, thanks to a regular alignment in the orbits of the moon and the F ring.

Scientists think that this alignment may lead to the creation of a lot of moonlets which produce many of those bright clumps. Therefore, the clumps would fade over time since collisions with ring material would destroy the moonlets.

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