Adhesion and collisional release of particles in dense planetary rings

Anna Bodrova, Jürgen Schmidt, Frank Spahn, Nikolay Brilliantov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


We propose a simple theoretical model for aggregative and fragmentative collisions in Saturn's dense rings. In this model the ring matter consists of a bimodal size distribution: large (meter sized) boulders and a population of smaller particles (tens of centimeters down to dust). The small particles can adhesively stick to the boulders and can be released as debris in binary collisions of their carriers. To quantify the adhesion force we use the JKR theory (Johnson, K., Kendall, K., Roberts, A. [1971]. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A 324, 301-313). The rates of release and adsorption of particles are calculated, depending on material parameters, sizes, and plausible velocity dispersions of carriers and debris particles. In steady state we obtain an expression for the amount of free debris relative to the fraction still attached to the carriers. In terms of this conceptually simple model a paucity of subcentimeter particles in Saturn's rings (French, R.G., Nicholson, P.D. [2000]. Icarus 145, 502-523; Marouf, E. et al. [2008]. Abstracts for " Saturn after Cassini-Huygens" Symposium, Imperial College London, UK, July 28 to August 1, p. 113) can be understood as a consequence of the increasing strength of adhesion (relative to inertial forces) for decreasing particle size. In this case particles smaller than a certain critical radius remain tightly attached to the surfaces of larger boulders, even when the boulders collide at their typical speed. Furthermore, we find that already a mildly increased velocity dispersion of the carrier-particles may significantly enhance the fraction of free debris particles, in this way increasing the optical depth of the system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-68
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Collisional physics
  • Planetary rings
  • Saturn, Rings


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