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Astronomers explain Jupiter’s lack of rings

Despite Jupiter’s enormous size, its ring system is quite weak and almost invisible. Scientists attribute this to the destructive effects of massive satellites, which prevent the accumulation of matter in its orbit.

Jupiter is noticeably more massive than Saturn and could hold an even more impressive ring system. In addition, it is closer to Earth, and if Jupiter had such rings, they would be much better visible. What exactly it is that deprives us of this cosmic spectacle, scientists from the University of California, Riverside found out. Conducted simulations have shown that to form a stable system of Jupiter’s rings interfere with its large satellites. The article has been accepted for publication in the Planetary Science Journal and is already available in the arXiv preprint library.

In principle, Jupiter has rings, but they are far from as grand as those of neighboring Saturn. Even first noticed them only after the Jupiter system was visited by the space probe Voyager 1, and from Earth they can see only some very powerful telescopes. Recall, the other day they took a new space telescope James Webb. The mass of Jupiter’s rings is estimated to range from hundreds of millions to tens of trillions of tons, while on Saturn, despite its smaller size, they are orders of magnitude more massive.

The rings of Saturn are composed mainly of particles of water ice, while the weak rings of Jupiter are assumed to be formed by dust knocked out from the surface of its satellites. The satellites also prevent the formation of a more prominent ring system. Jupiter has more than 80 of them, including the four largest, discovered by Galileo: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Recent computer simulations by Stephen Kane and Zhexing Li have shown that the gravity of the Galilean satellites disturbs the stability of the orbits where the ring matter could accumulate, sending it either to the planet itself or to one of its satellites.

“We found that Jupiter’s Galilean satellites, some of the largest in the solar system, are rapidly destroying the massive ring system while it is still forming,” Professor Kane says. – Massive planets have massive satellites, and they strip it of its rings.”

Scientists now plan to do similar work for Uranus, another giant of the solar system, which also has its own ring system, but is extremely weak. This planet’s own axis of rotation is strongly deviated from the plane of the equator, it moves actually on its side. Some hypotheses attribute this to the powerful collision that Uranus experienced in the past. The impact may have also thrown into orbit the material from which its small rings were formed. Perhaps the simulations will help to better elucidate the details of that long-standing cosmic catastrophe.

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