National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Dynamics of the Ring of Saturn (I. Wake Structure Formation)


Saturn’s Rings are composed of countless small ice particles on the order of tens of centimeters to several meters in size. The farther they are located from the planet Saturn itself, the slower the ice particles of Saturn's rings orbit, similar to the orbits of Saturn’s moons. As a result of the mutual gravitational interaction between the ice particles and stretching due to differences in the rotation velocity, the ice particles trace out a slanted stripe pattern in the direction of rotation. This kind of formation is called a “wake structure.”

This video is a visualization of this motion based on calculations of the gravity of the ice particles orbiting Saturn.

A Never Before Seen Look at Saturn

The striped pattern visible in observational images of Saturn’s ring is a slightly larger scale phenomenon than the wake structure. Small structures like the wake structure cannot be observed directly by planetary probes like Cassini, but the wake structure has been indirectly confirmed through occultation observations. It is thought that wake structures occur in the highest density regions in rings, like the A Ring or B Ring.

Translation by: Ramsey Lundock (NAOJ)

Video Data

Number of Particles70,000
Phenomenon Time ScaleSeveral days
Phenomenon Spatial Scale10’s to 100’s of meters
Simulation byHiroshi Daisaka (Hitotsubashi University)
CreditHiroshi Daisaka, Takaaki Takeda, 4D2U Project NAOJ

Related Links

*If you wish to use this video, please refer to the 4D2U Terms and Conditions of Use.