Tag Archives: Saturn

Moon Merging May Have Created Saturnian System [Nature]

Saturn’s moon mix—different locations, different densities, some are ice, others rocky—begs the question how did they form. Current research by Erik Asphaug and Andreas Reufer provide a possible answer:

According to a model proposed by Erik Asphaug, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his colleague Andreas Reufer of the University of Bern in Switzerland, Saturn and its satellites initially resembled a miniature version of the Jupiter system, with four large satellites similar in size to Jupiter’s Galilean moons. Saturn’s satellites then began to merge, eventually forming Titan, the planet’s largest moon, says Asphaug, who presented the model on 17 October at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Reno, Nevada.

The mid-size satellites would have formed from the scraps left over from building Titan, with the mergers perhaps accounting for Titan’s surprisingly elongated orbit. The merging may have been triggered by an instability in the Solar System about 3.8 billion years ago, when theorists think that the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were migrating. Because of Jupiter’s bigger gravitational grip, its moons were relatively impervious to the disturbance, Asphaug speculates.

The model isn’t without its critics, though. For a video explaining the model, and details about some of the models’ issues, read my Nature article Moon-merge model could explain Saturnian system.