Saturn Rings

Scientists Think They’ve Solved Mystery of Saturn Rings

Astronomers are puzzled by a phenomenon called “ring of fire,” which is a strange and mysterious feature in the icy rings of Saturn. Why’s this ring of fire, though? According to some scientists who have studied the ring from many angles, they think it could hold clues to the existence of alien creatures that once lived on its surface. But, how does this weird shape look so like a giant glowing orb of fire? The answer may lie in its structure, if only for a moment, according to them.

“We believe our explanation for the appearance of this unusual structure is the result of heat generated by magnetic reconnection between different layers within the ring, as well as by frictional heating inside adjacent rings,” said one of the researchers. Previously, most astronomers thought that such an unusual thing could be due to interactions with other structures on the ring such as comets and asteroids, or even volcanoes. However, scientists now believe magnetic reconnection to be the chief cause of these strange shapes.

“That means that a very high-energy process is happening here and the inner layers of this ring contain a lot of material heated by reconnection,” explains David Schiller, lead author of the paper published in Nature Communications yesterday. These materials are in turn producing sparks that might explain the burning ring, he says.

On the outer side, Schiller points out that the inner ring contains a much lower energy, but more than enough to create magnetic fields that are responsible for deflecting solar particles into the ring’s inner layer. This can also take place under conditions when there are large amounts of free electrons, as happens at the base of larger ring structures, he notes. So, according to him, magnetic reconnection is creating the perfect environment for it because of its connection to nuclear processes (like fission), as well as the way that the magnetic field lines are formed. Most importantly, however, this theory is based on results obtained using models. In the model, the magnetic reconnection is described as a two-stage event: A part of the ring that heats up to give rise to intense light and radio waves, and another where the same material cools down and creates a long auroral arc.

The study was led by physicists from Caltech University in La Cañada Flintridge, Mexico, and the Instituto de Astrobiología (IAA) of Madrid, Spain. “This work has shed new light on fundamental concepts in magnetism and astrophysics,” says IA, co-author of the research. More research was carried out last year by scientists at JAXA and Columbia University (Columbia).

The findings also point out the fact that magnetic reconnection should not be viewed as just a phenomena that takes place spontaneously without direct intervention from human beings. Rather, it is something that occurs naturally in the cosmos, Schiller points out. There are no reasons for any man-made objects, objects or people to intervene. This implies that we are all born with the ability to destroy ourselves. “Our own life story is what causes us to want to destroy ourselves,” he says. He refers to his own life story, and the lives of other people whose stories are similar to ours, as being “unreal”. “So, while my life has nothing to do with you… you are too,” Schiller exclaims.

Saturn Rings

The first image shows the ring from the northern hemisphere. An almost identical ring, seen in a second view, appears to be located in the south and can be explained by collisions with other entities located around the ring. Image credit: N. Schiller et al./Nature Communications (2020, November 30)

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