It makes sense to wonder why Jupiter doesn’t have a gorgeous, extensive system of visible rings given its resemblance to our neighbour, Saturn.
Sadly, that is not the case. Jupiter does contain rings, but they are weak, frail, dust objects that can only be seen when backlit by the Sun.
These cheap rings lack sparkle, according to new research, because Jupiter’s gang of chonky Galilean moons prevents discs of rock and dust from forming the way they do around Saturn.
Astrophysicist Stephen Kane from the University of California Riverside said, “I’ve often wondered why Jupiter doesn’t have even more spectacular rings that would put Saturn’s to shame.”
Jupiter is far closer to us than Saturn, therefore if there were moons there, they would be even brighter to us.
Kane and his colleague Zhexing Li of the University of California, Riverside, ran a number of simulations of the objects orbiting the Jovian system to test the theory that a massive ring system may have formed around Jupiter at some point in its past.
The four largest moons of Jupiter, collectively known as the Galilean moons and larger than Mercury, were included in these simulations. These moons are Ganymede (the largest moon in the Solar System), Callisto, Io, and Europa.
The team also factored in how long it might take for a ring system to develop.
According to this simulation, Jupiter cannot contain rings similar to Saturn, and it is doubtful that it ever had, according to the experts.
According to Kane, “large planets create huge moons, preventing them from having substantial rings.”
“We discovered that any massive rings that might form would be soon destroyed by the Galilean moons of Jupiter, one of which is the largest moon in our Solar System.”
The majority of Jupiter’s currently fragile rings are comprised of dust expelled into space by some of its moons, which may also include debris from impact events.
The majority of Saturn’s rings, on the other hand, are made of ice; they might be pieces of asteroids or comets, or they could be pieces of an icy moon that either disintegrated under Saturn’s gravitational pull or collided and the ejecta created rings.
We are aware that Saturn’s moons are very important in shaping and maintaining its rings. A sufficiently big moon (or moons) can, however, also gravitationally disturb rings, yeeting ice out of planetary orbit and into the wide unknown.
Rings around planets are actually quite frequent, even in our own Solar System, despite the fact that Saturn is the planet that most people associate with having rings.
Jupiter is one of them, as we have already mentioned. There are also thin, tenuous dust rings around the icy giants Neptune and Uranus.
In comparison to the other planets, Uranus is also tipped on its side, with its orbital axis almost parallel to the orbital plane.
Its rings are believed to be connected to this in some way; either something hit Uranus and tipped it, or it originally had incredibly large rings, which may have contributed to its sideways tilt.
Additionally, rings are not just seen on planets. Chariklo, a tiny object with a size of around 230 km (143 miles), is in an outer orbit around Jupiter and Uranus. The dwarf planet Haumea, which is present in the Kuiper belt with Pluto.
According to simulations, rings surrounding icy bodies are uncommon because gravitational interactions cause ice to lift from the surface of these bodies and create an orbital ring around them.
Mars may occasionally have rings as well. Each year, Mars’ moon Phobos gets a little bit closer to the red planet; in 100 million years, it will be so close that Mars‘ gravity will tear it apart, leaving a fleeting ring that may someday reform into a moon once more.
Even Saturn’s rings, which will eventually begin to fall onto the planet, are most likely a temporary phenomena.
Rings can be used to reconstruct some violent episodes in a planet’s history if we can look at them closely enough.
They resemble the blood – stained walls of a crime scene to us astronomers, Kane remarked. “When we examine the rings of massive planets, it is proof that a catastrophic event caused the material to be there.”
Anyway, it could be for the best that Big Jupiter doesn’t have any really spectacular rings. Saturn should be allowed to do its thing. Hexagons are already being influenced by Jupiter, after all.
The research’s results have been published in the Planetary Science Journal and are accessible on arXiv.