Thursday, 24 November 2016

What is a Ringed Planet?

Today when I was relaxing on my couch and watching TV ( a great refuge after the ATM rumble), I saw a chap in a cartoon surfing on the Saturn’s ring! Some fun he must have had! A thought crept into my mind, we could use the belt as a transportation road in the future (one of the side effects on my mind after getting to know the mars civilization plans).  For that, we would need the belt to be continuous and that is not the case. Then I started to explore more on Saturn and here’s what I made out-

Discovering Saturn

The first observer was Galileo Galilei. It was observed by him back in 1610. He used a telescope which couldn’t lens the rings. Instead, it made the planet look like surrounded by two moons. When Galileo observed the planet years later, it turned out that the moons had disappeared! Yeah, that would have been really interesting hadn’t the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens observed Saturn in 1659. He stated that Saturn was surrounded by rings. What about the vanishing moons Galileo told about? He observed Saturn when the rings were facing Earth edge on. As advances in scientific telescopes were made, the mystery of the rings began to unfold. The rings are now named in the English alphabets in order of their discovery.

What all make up the Saturn rings?

Dust, rock and ice constitute the rings. Sizes range from a salt sized particle to a multistorey building. The particles are added to the rings by passing asteroids which shatter into pieces when approaching the planet.

How come the system is stable?

The question which entertained me the most. The particles revolving has a greater acceleration due to gravity( denoted by g) compared to earth. g of earth=9.8, g of saturn=10.06 ( both being in m/s 2 ). The reason of stability being their vibration at mean positions. There are many systems in which particles vibrate to decrease their energy and thus stabilise. James Maxwell, in 1859, wrote an essay on the stability of saturn rings. It has detailed calculations justifying stability.

What do we have now?

Cassini-Huygens: an unmanned spacecraft providing information of the ringed planet. Its development started in 1980s and was launched on 15 October 1997 and entered the planet's orbit on 1 July 2004. Its design includes a Saturn orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens) for the moon Titan. The two spacecraft are named after astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens. Cassini continued to study the Saturn system in the following years, and continues to operate as of 2016, although it is currently going to be destroyed in 2017 by flying into Saturn, thus ending the mission. (Gives me the sense of a soldier).

Written by Prajwal Pitlehra
A 12th pass out with science in my pocket and pen in my hand, I hope to make my place in the world.

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