An artistic rendering offers a closeup of Saturn's ring particles. Photo by NASA
LEICESTER, England, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- The rings of Saturn and Jupiter and those of satellites, planets and exoplanets all have something in common -- the distribution of their ring particles is governed by the same mathematical law.
According to new research, planetary rings share a universally similar particle distribution.
"Our study has finally resolved the riddle of particle size distribution. In particular, our study shows that the observed distribution is not peculiar for Saturn's rings, but has a universal character," Nikolai Brilliantov, a researcher at the University of Leicester, said in a press release. "In other words, it is generic for all planetary rings which have particles to have a similar nature."
The new study, published in the journal PNAS, shows that distribution of different size particles within the rings of Saturn isn't unique, but is replicated in all ring systems where particles are frequently colliding.
Scientists suggest Saturn's rings are the product of some ancient catastrophic collision, which produced a stream of cosmic material of varying shapes and sizes. That Saturn's rings host particles ranging from a few centimeters to 10 meters isn't surprising, researchers say.
"What is surprising is that the relative abundance of particles of different sizes follows, with a high accuracy, a beautiful mathematical law 'of inverse cubes,'" Brilliantov said. "That is, the abundance of 2 meter-size particles is eight times smaller than the abundance of 1 meter-size particles, the abundance of 3 meter-size particles is 27 times smaller and so on."
But for a long time, scientists have been trying to understand why this law fades from relevance for particles over 10 meters, when abundance of large particles drops abruptly.
This drop isn't an anomaly that must be explained, researchers now realize, but simply a product of ring-like systems of particle collision.
"The rather general mathematical model elaborated in the study with the focus on Saturn's rings may be successfully applied to other systems, where particles merge, colliding with slow velocities and break into small pieces colliding with large impact speeds," added Brilliantov.
"Such systems exist in nature and industry and will exhibit a beautiful law of inverse cubes and drop in large particle abundance in their particle size distribution."