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Cassini Scientist for a Day -- Fall 2009 Winners
Target 1: Saturn & Rings, Grade 9 to 12

Cassini Scientist for a Day -- Fall 2009 Winners
Target 1: Saturn & Rings, Grade 9 to 12


Anthony Bass
Saturn and its rings
Saturn and its Rings
Anthony Bass

12th Grade
Seminole Ridge Community High School
Teacher: Erich Landstrom
Loxahatchee, Fla.


"The Cassini spacecraft should photograph Saturn and its rings in order to get clearer insight into the composition of the rings and how they were formed. Saturn is well known for its complex ring structure, which has become a wonder of our solar system, and yet we still do not know where exactly these rings came from. We are being provided with an ideal opportunity to photograph Saturn's rings right now during equinox.

Primarily, Saturn's ring system is the largest and most complex in the solar system. It contains many divisions and subdivisions, of which the B ring is the largest and the brightest. These rings are made up of mostly ice, with small amounts of various impurities. If we could analyze the composition of these impurities, they would provide us with clues as to where they came from. For instance, if we found large amounts of hydrogen and helium among the ice within Saturn's D ring, this could suggest that that particular ring was formed of material from the planet itself, knowing that Saturn is about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. We could then infer that it is possible that an asteroid hit Saturn and ejected material into its orbit, forming the D ring. This scenario seems especially plausible in the D ring because it is the closest ring to the planet and it is likely that any ejected material would end up here.

The three main rings of Saturn are the B, C, and A rings. Of which, the B is the largest and the two latter being the next largest. If the B ring's orbit was previously occupied by a moon, and this moon got too close to Saturn and was ripped apart by tidal forces, it is likely that we would see something similar to what we see now, the main B ring as the largest, and the C and A rings smaller but yet bigger than all the rest. As the debris from this moon began to spread out from Saturn's gravitational force, we would see an area of high density in the moon's prior orbit, and areas of lower density on either side, thus explaining the formation of the B,C, and A rings and why the B ring is the largest. In order to do this theory any justice, we would need to look for clues in the composition of the main rings and compare this data to the composition of Saturn's other moons, in order to help us determine if it is really possible that these rings started as a moon.

In closing, Saturn and its rings have much to tell us about the history of the planet's satelites as well as the formation of the rings. The rings of Saturn are among the most beautiful and easily recognized sites in the solar system, but yet we arent even sure how they came to be. With equinox providing us the perfect oportunity to act, it would be a shame not to do so."