Observations and Dynamics of Ring-Moon Systems

Grant #: NNX14AO40G
Senior Scientist: Mark Showalter


The Cassini data sets have provided remarkable new insights about the processes at work among the rings and small moons of Saturn. Guided by these discoveries, we will seek out and investigate related phenomena in the ring-moon systems orbiting Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. We will employ data from Voyager, Cassini and New Horizons, complemented by the best publicly available data from HST and from the W. M. Keck Telescope. We will apply new and powerful image analysis techniques that should enable us to obtain significant new results from old data. Using these techniques we will:

(1) search for possible moons and rings that are significantly fainter than the detection thresholds from previous studies;

(2) expand and refine our collection of astrometry and photometry of the small satellites, including newly discovered S/2004 N 1;

(3) investigate the orbital interactions among the moons of Uranus, deriving the first constraints on the masses of these bodies;

(4) study the apparently chaotic rotation of Pluto's small moons;

(5) seek out subtle edge modes in the rings of Uranus, which might hint at the effects of unseen shepherd moons or other external forces; and

(6) make sense of the conflicting reports about clumps and asymmetries in the faint Jovian ring.