A Race Around Saturn (Animated)
April 25, 2013
This animation depicts the shearing of an initially circular cloud of debris as a result of the particles in the cloud having differing orbital speeds around Saturn. After the cloud is formed, each particle within it follows its own simple orbit. The cloud begins to elongate as particles closer to the planet orbit at a faster speed than the particles farther from the planet. Scientists can use the angle the cloud was canted to infer the time elapsed since it was formed. This method was used to determine the times of the impacts that created the clouds in Saturn's rings that were captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft (see Meteors Meet Saturn's Rings).
A still version of this graphic can be seen at A Race Around Saturn .
For more information on clouds of ejected material see Rain on the Plane.