Gravitational vortices and clump formation in Saturn's F ring during an encounter with Prometheus

2013-03-04T09:35:31Z (GMT) by Phil J. Sutton F.V. Kusmartsev
Saturn rings are most beautiful and dynamic places in the solar system, consisting of ice particles in a constant battle between the gravitational forces of Saturn and its many moons. Fan, spiral, propellers, moonlets and streamer-channels observed by CASSINI in the F-ring have been attributed to encounters by Prometheus on the F ring, with investigations of optical thickness revealing large populations of transient moonlets. Taking into account gravitational interaction between particles and a multi-stranded F-ring structure we show that Prometheus' encounters create rotational flows, like atmospheric vortices and the self-gravity enhances the accelerated growth and size of moonlets. Vortex patches form caustics, which is a primary cause of the transient particle density clumps of 20 km width and 100 km length, and they are elongated to cover an area of 1600 km by 150 km, which may eventually combine into a vortex sheet.