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The Solar System's second largest planet both in mass and size, Saturn is best known for its rings. These are divided by a wide band, the Cassini Division, whose formation was poorly understood until very recently. Now, researchers from the CNRS, the Paris Observatory—PSL and the University of Franche-Comté have shown that Mimas, one of Saturn's moons, acted as a kind of remote snowplough, pushing apart the ice particles that make up the rings. The findings are the result of two studies supported by the International Space Science Institute and CNES, the French space agency, published simultaneously in June 2019 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Saturn's rings are made up of ice particles whose orbital velocity increases the closer they are to the planet. The Cassini Division is a wide, dark band located between Saturn's two most visible rings, in which the particle density is considerably lower than that inside the rings. The researchers suspected a link between Mimas, one of Saturn's moons, and the band, since there is a region at the inner edge of the Division where the particles orbit around Saturn exactly twice as fast as Mimas. This phenomenon, known as orbital resonance, pushes the ice particles apart, producing a relatively narrow gap. Scientists from CNRS, the Paris Observatory—PSL and the University of Franche-Comté have now shown that Mimas may have moved closer to Saturn in the recent past, making the moon a kind of remote snowplough that widened the initial gap, giving it the 4500 km width it has today. If on...
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