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Ring Systems


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Question for all the hardcore astronomers/astrophysicists out there (I'm looing at you Mal..

What do we know of the density of planetary rings? Are they so dense that if a ship were to go through it, it would result in extensive damage? Or are the peices far enough apart that a decent astrographer could plot a course through?

I know Saturn has "spokes" and "gaps" but in general when you get in close, what is the story (if there is one)? From the distances we have pictures, it appears relatively solid, but that's from a pretty far distance.

Kind of a silly question, I know, but it's just something that popped into my head.
I'm not an expert but I'd say even if its generally okay there could be a problem with things 'hiding' in the rings. Check out SPACE.com for more info. However, if using MT then a densitometer scan should help avoid these.

Regards PLST
I´m not an astronomer, but I´ve had the pleasure of seeing some of the pictures taken by the Cassini probe this January, as well as hearing the leader of the picture taking team (I don´t remember the official title) tell stories about it.

As I recall, the rings are very thin (IIRC a couple of kilometers) and consist of relatively small objects. So in order to look as solid as they do, they would probably have to be fairly dense. Of course, "fairly dense" is a relative term in astronomy ;) . OTOH I guess since the rings are thought to be made up mostly of ice (which is why they are so shiny), not rock, I guess a ship could very well survive passing through them if it doesn´t go too fast.

The gaps were caused by the moons of Saturn; I don´t known the exact mechanics, though. Basically the gravity of the moons "adds up" when two or more are at the same point of their orbits, and they tug at the ring material, creating these gaps.
Yep, another interested amature here to fill the time till an expert wades in ;)

As I recall there was some concern with the first ring fly through (was that a Voyager mission?) Worries about damage and such. But it pulled through with no problems.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is the latest so check nasa/jpl for the most recent info (a quick google will turn it up).

As I recall the rings (Saturn anyway) are much less than a kilometer thick, more like 100m, but I may be remembering wrong.

And while mostly small stuff parts of it are composed of large truck size stuff. So mostly you'd be ok unless you hit one of the big pieces.

The space between pieces is larger than the pieces though, and they tend to clump so again it's pretty easy to fly through. The chances of a collision are small. Now lurking in or flying within the ring would increase the chances of a collision and would probably not be advised at any speed.

Anyway, that's all off the top of my head, so don't take it as absolute fact ;)
IIRC Voyager flew through the ring-plane, not the rings themselves. There's a lot of dust there that people were worried about I think, but it proved to be OK.

Within the rings themselves there will be a hell of a lot of dust and small particles, and IIRC the constitents range from pebble-sized to house-sized or bigger.

You wouldn't want to fly through them, but if you're careful you might be able to lurk in there.

Also note that Saturn's rings are particularly 'chunky'. The rings of Jupiter or Uranus or Neptune are much more dusty, with smaller particles in them.