Article

Nature 453, 739-744 (5 June 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06999; Received 14 February 2008; Accepted 7 April 2008

The determination of the structure of Saturn's F ring by nearby moonlets

Carl D. Murray1, Kevin Beurle1, Nicholas J. Cooper1, Michael W. Evans1, Gareth A. Williams1 & Sébastien Charnoz2

  1. Astronomy Unit, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK
  2. C. E. de Saclay, Université Paris 7, L'Orme de Merisiers, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France

Correspondence to: Carl D. Murray1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.D.M. (Email: c.d.murray@qmul.ac.uk).

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Saturn's narrow F ring exhibits several unusual features that vary on timescales of hours to years. These include transient clumps, a central core surrounded by a multistranded structure and a regular series of longitudinal channels associated with Prometheus, one of the ring's two 'shepherding' satellites. Several smaller moonlets and clumps have been detected in the ring's immediate vicinity, and a population of embedded objects has been inferred. Here we report direct evidence of moonlets embedded in the ring's bright core, and show that most of the F ring's morphology results from the continual gravitational and collisional effects of small satellites, often combined with the perturbing effect of Prometheus. The F-ring region is perhaps the only location in the Solar System where large-scale collisional processes are occurring on an almost daily basis.

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