A wall of rubble in a ring of Saturn

Saturn’s B ring has shadows cast by “mountainous waves of icy rubble extending more than 2 miles high above the 30-feet-thick disk of debris that forms the plane of the rings” :


This image from the Cassini probe shows vertical structures casting shadows on Saturn’s B ring: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

From Porco:

I have often thought: What a surreal sight this would be if you were flying low across the rings in a shuttle craft. To your eyes, the rings would seem like a gleaming white, scored, gravelly

sheet below you, extending nearly to infinity. And as you flew, you would see in the distance a wall of rubble that, eventually, as it neared, you would come to realize towered 2 miles above your head. There isn’t another sight like it in the solar system!

Michael Carroll, a beloved and skilled astronomical artist, took this idea, mentioned often in my public lectures, and turned it into a piece of art.

3 thoughts on “A wall of rubble in a ring of Saturn”

  1. So the ring edges are lined with the largest components? Why is this the first time I’ve heard of this, and is there any good explanation? Presuming it has something to do with aggregating at the edges of the gaps where the shepherding moons are located? Any collisions at the edges tend to “stick” and build up because of the gravitational effects of the shepherds. (?)

  2. A surprise to me as well. Never would have guessed that it was possible to have a sharp division between a ring with thin dust and a ring of large boulders.

    Lots of odd things in the Saturnian system. E.g. the hexagon storm at the pole.

    1. I think I heard someone remark that the hexagon comes about because of “resonances” within the atmosphere as a whole interacting with the “local” storm. Sounds like as good a theory as any, for now…

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