Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 – 24 September 2021
Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 September – 24 September 2021


Planetary Rings - Protoplanetary Disks

Thanks to the advancement of observational techniques from Earth and space, our knowledge of planetary ring systems and protoplanetary disks has greatly improved. While these two classes of objects differ by orders of magnitude in dimension and evolutionary stage, they offer a unique opportunity to investigate common dynamical processes that can shed light on the formation, composition and evolution of planetary systems. Although rings are common companions of the outer planets in our solar system, so far we do not yet have firm evidence of similar structures around exoplanets. In this respect, the characteristics of solar system rings can be used as a benchmark to tune ongoing exo-ring surveys. Conversely, high-angular resolution images obtained with new instruments such as the ALMA interferometer and SPHERE on VLT have revealed that protoplanetary discs are also characterized by substructures such
as gaps and narrow rings. The formation of these rings can be explained by the dynamical interaction of the gas and dust in the disc with one or more embedded planets. Similar processes are also common in planetary rings, as revealed by the unprecedented spatial
resolution of Cassini observations at Saturn. In this session we invite abstracts related to both theoretical and observational studies of
planetary rings and protoplanetary disks, as well as exo-ring research.

Co-organized by OPS/EXO
Convener: Philip D. Nicholson | Co-conveners: Gianrico Filacchione, Linda Podio, Claudia Toci

Session assets

Discussion on Slack

Oral and Poster presentations and abstracts

Chairpersons: Philip D. Nicholson, Linda Podio
Rings around small bodies
Heikki Salo, Bruno Sicardy, Annabella Mondino-Llermanos, Damya Soumi, Stefan Renner, Bruno Morgado, Felipe Braga-Ribas, Gustavo Benedetti-Rossi, and Thamiris de Santana

We have performed numerical simulations of narrow rings around small bodies, addressing both the m=2 resonance perturbations induced by a rotating tri-axial ellipsoidal central body and the m=1 perturbations due to a mass anomaly on the surface of the central body.  The simulations include up to 1e5 mutually colliding particles, and their partially inelastic impacts are resolved with the soft-sphere treatment introduced in Salo (1995; for details see Salo et al. 2018). An azimuthally complete ring is followed, and the integrations are performed in an inertial center-of-mass frame, lasting up to 1e5 central body rotations. Our goal is to see under which conditions the perturbation may prevent the collision-induced viscous spreading of the ring, instead leading to a confinement.

Our study is motivated by the narrow dense rings discovered around the tri-axial Centaur object Chariklo (Braga-Ribas et al. 2014) and the dwarf planet Haumea (Ortiz et al. 2017). In particular the Chariklo ring consists of two narrow components, with the inner ring having an optical depth of the order of unity and possessing sharp edges. While the ellipticity of the ring is poorly constrained (measurements are consistent with a circular ring), it is known to exhibit substantial width variations (Berard et al. AJ, 154, 144). Both Chariklo and Haumea rings are close to a distance where the orbital period equals three central body rotations, corresponding to a 2/6 resonance with a rotating ellipsoidal body, and a 1/3 resonance for a mass anomaly (Sicardy et al. 2019).

Sicardy et al. (2019) demonstrated that torques connected to resonances lead to a rapid clearing of particles from the vicinity of the central body, up to distances where orbital period equals two central body rotation periods.  Their test particle calculations approximated the effects of impacts with an additional Stokes friction term.  Our realistic collisional simulations confirm these results, and also indicate that the m=2 perturbation by the ellipsoidal body has an insignificant effect at the 2/6 resonance. On the other hand, we find that a sufficiently strong mass anomaly may eventually lead to formation of a narrow confined ring near 1/3  (Fig. 1).

What maintains the ring confined?  Our favored mechanism is the reversal of angular momentum flux.  Without perturbation, the outward flow of angular momentum, together with collisional dissipation, always implies radial dispersal of a narrow ring. However, in a strongly perturbed ring (say with an eccentricity gradient related to width variations) the direction of flux may reverse, leading to a confinement of sharp edges (Borderies et al. 1982).  In Hänninen and Salo (1994, 1995; see also Goldreich et al 1995) such a confinement was verified in direct simulations of first order satellite Lindblad resonances, including the inner 2/1 (ILR) and outer 1/2 (OLR). Moreover, the
simulation-measured pressure tensor was shown to be in accordance with the theoretical mechanism.  With the current code we have verified this early simulation result, and extended similar measurements to the 1/3 case.  However, the 1/3 behaviour is more complicated due to the different order of the resonance.  While in the ILR and OLR resonances the response of the ring is more or less steady in the frame rotating with the perturber, this is not so in the 1/3 case.

We are currently investigating in detail the confinement/ flux reversal mechanism, which results will be reported.  We will also discuss the scaling between the simulated particle size and the magnitude of the mass anomaly required for confinement.  Eventually,  in order to extend the calculations to realistic particle sizes, a larger number of particles needs to be simulated in a multi-processor environment: for that purpose we plan to use the new REBOUND-based soft-sphere code recently applied to local simulations of viscous overstability (Mondino-Llermanos and Salo, this meeting; submitted to MNRAS).  The soft-sphere impact treatment is important as the ringlets have a large optical depth; it will also facilitate the later inclusion of ring self-gravity, important for rings near the Roche zone where temporary clumping of particles is expected.

Figure 1.

Upper row: evolution of a ring around a spherical central body with a mass anomaly μ=0.03. Three snapshots of the ring are shown: the title indicates the time in terms of central body rotations. The ring is initially centered at the 1/3 resonance (2.08 times the corotation distance) and  the size of the simulated particles corresponds to about 200 meters when scaled to the Chariklo system.  In the plot the radial deviations from the resonance distance are exaggerated by a factor of three. Triangles indicate the locations of the central body and the mass anomaly, while  the cross indicates the center-of-mass: for clarity, the deviations are exaggerated by a factor of 10.  

Lower row: evolution of the distribution and mean value of angular momentum Lz, in three simulations with different μ. With μ=0.01 the perturbation is too weak to prevent the collisional spreading of the ring. With μ=0.03 (same simulation as in the upper row) and μ=0.1 the particle orbits gradually get organized in the vicinity of the resonance and eventually experience a rapid excitement of eccentricities accompanied by an outward drift in Lz. After resonance passage the eccentricities are damped and the particles form a narrow ringlet with confined sharp edges.



  Berard et al. 2017, AJ 154, 144.   Borderies et al. 1982, Nature 299, 209.   Braga-Ribas et al. 2014, Nature 508, 72.   Goldreich et al., 1995, Icarus 118, 414.   Hänninen and Salo, 1994,  Icarus 108, 325.   Hänninen and Salo, 1995,  Icarus 117, 435.    Ortiz et al. 2017, Nature 550, 219.   Salo, 1995, Icarus 117, 287.   Salo et al. 2018, in Planetary Ring Systems (Tiscareno and Murray, eds.), 434.   Sicardy et al. 2019, Nature Astronomy 3, 146.


How to cite: Salo, H., Sicardy, B., Mondino-Llermanos, A., Soumi, D., Renner, S., Morgado, B., Braga-Ribas, F., Benedetti-Rossi, G., and de Santana, T.: Resonance confinement of collisional particle rings, Europlanet Science Congress 2021, online, 13–24 Sep 2021, EPSC2021-338,, 2021.

Bruno Sicardy, Heikki Salo, Damya Souami, Stéfan Renner, Bruno Morgado, Felipe Braga-Ribas, Gustavo Benedetti-Rossi, and Thamiris de Santana

Narrow and dense rings have been discovered around the small Centaur object Chariklo (Braga-Ribas et al 2014) and the dwarf planet Haumea (Ortiz et al. 2017). Both ring systems are observed close to the 1/3 resonance with the central body, meaning that the particles complete one revolution while the body completes three rotations.

The potential of small bodies can have large non-axisymmetric terms when compared to the giants planets. As a result, strong resonant couplings occur between the body and a surrounding collisional, dissipative disk (Sicardy et al. 2019). Those resonances are described by a critical angle φ= mλ' - (m-j)λ - jϖ, where j>0 is the resonant order (i.e. the order in eccentricity of the resonant term in the Hamiltonian), m (m<0 or m>0) is the azimuthal number, λ' (resp. λ) is the rotational angle of the body (resp. the particle), and ϖ is the longitude of periapse of the particle.

Among the j= 1 (Lindblad), 2, 3 and 4 resonances, only the cases j= 1 and 2 can have an unstable (more precisely non-elliptic) point at the origin of the phase portrait describing [X= e.cos(φ), Y= e.sin(φ)], where e is the eccentricity and φ is the critical angle previously defined. The 1/3 resonant in particular has m=-1  and j=2, and is thus of second order. For a narrow range of the Jacobi constant associated with that resonance [i.e. a - (3/2)a0e2, where a is the ring's semi-major axis and a0 is the semi-major axis at exact resonance], the origin of the phase portrait is hyperbolic, hence unstable.

This instability triggers an eccentricity excitation of the ring near the 1/3 resonance, a source of torque on that ring. Such resonance can be created by a mass anomaly in the central body. We have tested this mechanism by simulating a ring with 30,000 particles undergoing inelastic collisions near the 1/3 resonance with Chariklo, in the presence of a large mass anomaly that represents 0.1 the mass of the body.


Preliminary results are shown in the figure above. The density of particles has been plotted in a (Jacobi constant-eccentricity) diagram, with the exact resonance location plotted as the vertical dash-dotted gray line. The solid gray line is the expected maximum eccentricity reached by particles for the corresponding Jacobi constant. Panel (a): initial conditions for the 30,000 ring particles; panel (b): the particles after 2,000 Chariklo rotations (about 1.6 years) during the excitation phase due to the 1/3 resonance; panel (c): the particles in the time interval 9,000-9,900 Chariklo rotations (~7-8 years). At that point, the ring has settled just outside the resonance location, reaching a balance between the eccentricity and semi-major dampings due to inelastic collisions, and the eccentricity excitation caused by the resonance.

More quantitative results will be presented, in particular the effect of smaller, more realistic, mass anomalies, and the assessment of a possible slow outward drift caused by a residual secular torque on the ring. Meanwhile, the observed behavior in those simulations appears as a promising mechanism to explain the proximity of both Chariklo's and Haumea's rings to the 1/3 resonance.

Braga-Ribas et al. 2014, Nature 508, 72
Ortiz et al. 2017, Nature 550, 219
Sicardy et al. 2019, Nature Astronomy 3, 146
Sicardy et al. 2020, in The Trans-Neptunian Solar System (Eds. D. Prialnik, M.A. Barucci and L. Young), Elsevier (Chapter 11)

Acknowledgements. The work leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community's H2020 2014-2021 ERC Grant Agreement n°669416 "Lucky Star".


How to cite: Sicardy, B., Salo, H., Souami, D., Renner, S., Morgado, B., Braga-Ribas, F., Benedetti-Rossi, G., and de Santana, T.: Rings around small bodies: the 1/3 resonance is key, Europlanet Science Congress 2021, online, 13–24 Sep 2021, EPSC2021-91,, 2021.

Saturn's rings: Evolution & composition
Paul Estrada and Richard H. Durisen

1. Introduction

After more than a dozen years in orbit about Saturn, the Cassini mission provided key measurements that are important for determining the age of Saturn’s rings. These include the extrinsic micrometeoroid flux at Saturn [1], the volume fraction of non-icy pollutants in the rings [e.g., 2], and the total ring mass [3]. These factors help to constrain the ring age to be no more than a few 100 Myr [1]. The Cassini Grand Finale also provided a suite of observations that demonstrate that the rings are losing mass to the planet at a surprising rate. Some of the mass flux falls as “ring rain” at higher latitudes consistent with the H+3 infrared emission pattern thought to be produced by an influx of charged water products from the rings [e.g., 4]. The contribution needed to account for the ring rain phenomenon though is considerably less than the total equatorial measured mass influx of 4800 – 45000 kg/s [5]. Taken together, these observations imply that the rings are not only young, but also ephemeral. Here we argue that bombardment by micrometeoroids can account for these observations.

2. What’s Driving the Mass Inflow?

It has been recently argued that the above age estimate for the rings derived from exposure to micrometeoroids is not the same as their formation age, and that the rings could look young but still be quite old [6]. At their current mass, the observed mass inflow is orders of magnitude more than what viscous evolution can currently produce [7,8]. However, recall that micrometeoroid bombardment (MB) not only leads to pollution of the rings over time (as well as a catalyst for ring rain), but also to exchange of mass and angular momentum throughout the rings due to ballistic transport (BT) of their impact ejecta. As a result of this fundamental feature of BT, the rings act like an accretion disk with outward angular momentum transport leading to a steady inward drift of material to the planet. In [8], we quantify this radial drift rate in the context of a quasi-steady uniform ring using an accretion disk analog to show that for plausible choices of the ejecta yield Y , that direct deposition (mass loading, ML) of micrometeoroids and BT can produce the observed mass inflow rates (Fig. 1). More importantly it means that as ring mass decreases and viscosity can no longer effectively drive their evolution, the rings can continue to dynamically evolve driven by MB. This has implications not only for the formation age and initial mass of Saturn’s current rings, but also for the long-term evolutionary state of planetary rings.

3. Evolution Under ML & BT

In [9] we have modeled the dynamical evolution of rings with initial disk masses ranging from 1-100 Mimas under the effects of viscosity and ML (Fig. 2, upper panel). For comparison, we show (blue dashed curve) the evolution due to viscosity alone for an initial disk mass of 100 Mimas [see 7]. This occurs because the evolution of massive rings is driven very strongly early on by viscosity, but weakens at later times as the ring spreads. We find though that when we include just ML (black curves), the rings’ dynamical evolution is eventually driven more strongly by ML once a threshold mass is achieved, and the ring mass continues to decrease. This result suggests, based on ML alone, that a primordial massive ring would likely have become low mass much earlier on in Solar System history, especially if the flux was much higher in the past. If one also includes BT (shown for 1 Mimas mass, magenta dotted curve) with Y = 104 for comparison, evolution (and mass loss) is greatly accelerated leading to much shorter life times. Figure 2 (bottom) shows the corresponding pollution rates which all achieve the observed range of volume fractions (green dotted lines) of non-icy material in the A/B rings [3] in ≤ few 100 Myr timescales independent of initial mass.